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Alfred I. Coplan, 78, local businessman, leader of charities

Alfred I. Coplan, a longtime Baltimore businessman and leader in many area nonprofit and charitable organizations, died of melanoma Wednesday at his Brooklandville home. He was 78.

Born in Baltimore, Mr. Coplan was 16 when he graduated from Forest Park High School with the Class of 1941. He went on to study at the University of Virginia, graduating in 1944 with a bachelor's degree in commerce.

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In 1945, at the age of 20, he became the youngest person to pass the Maryland exam for certified public accountants. He went to work briefly in the late 1940s for the Baltimore accounting firm of Harry B. Gorfine & Co., and also served a short time in the Army.

In 1950, he joined Reliable Stores Corp. as its comptroller. Reliable operated furniture and jewelry stores from Texas to Connecticut, including Pollack-Blum Stores and S&N; Katz Jewelers in Baltimore.

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Mr. Coplan rose through the corporation's ranks, becoming president in 1980 and chief executive officer in 1987. His successor as executive, Richard Barnett, now retired, said Mr. Coplan left the company with tight financial controls.

"He had a keen eye for the dollars and cents of the operating statement and balance sheet," he said. "He was very unassuming, with tremendous integrity; a wonderful man."

While serving as vice president and treasurer of the company in 1974, Mr. Coplan was elected president of the Maryland Retail Merchants Association, serving for two years.

In 1978, Reliable was bought in a leveraged buyout. Mr. Coplan retired from the firm in 1990 at age 65, and began a second career as a financial planner and wealth manager.

In 1996, he became a partner in the Consulting Group Division of Smith Barney, where he provided financial advice to "high-net-worth" individuals and institutions in the Baltimore area.

"We really looked at him as our chairman emeritus, a consultant to consultants," said Chris Aitken, Mr. Coplan's partner at Smith Barney. "He was just a wonderful man ... a mentor."

During his many years of cancer treatments, friends and co-workers were struck by Mr. Coplan's steadfast optimism. "He taught all of us a lot," Mr. Aitken said. "He was the kind of guy who sucked it up and didn't complain about circumstances. He did something about it and moved on. ... He was one of those pillars of the community, and it's very sad we have to lose him."

Mr. Coplan's community service began in the 1950s when he was appointed to the board of the Aaron and Lillie Straus Foundation, a philanthropy established by Reliable's founder, Aaron Straus. Mr. Coplan remained a board member until his death.

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In 1993, Mr. Coplan was named chairman of Associated Jewish Charities, leading campaigns that raised millions of dollars for humanitarian projects in Baltimore and Israel. He also served as president of Sinai Hospital, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital.

He also served on the boards of Goodwill Industries of Baltimore, Park School, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, and the National Conference of Christians and Jews. His daughter, Jan Coplan Rivitz of Roland Park, said her father "believed in action more than talk, and he didn't really need any recognition for it."

Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said Mr. Coplan was "absolutely committed to the organizations he served, and to the Baltimore Jewish community."

He called Mr. Coplan "the essence of a thoughtful, quality leader. ... I can never remember him second-guessing or looking back."

"He was never gruff," he said. "I can truly not remember anyone saying an unkind thing about him."

A knowledgeable lover of fine music, Mr. Coplan was founding chairman of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and a lifetime board member of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

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He traveled often to the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, and sat in on classes at the Aspen Music School and Baltimore School for the Arts to hear young musicians practice. He established the Alfred Coplan Summer Training Scholarship Fund to allow School for the Arts students to study during the summer.

Mr. Coplan was an inveterate traveler. With his wife, he took pleasure trips to such places as Africa, Italy, China, southern France and the Seychelles Islands.

After the Persian Gulf war in 1991, while a leader in the Associated: Jewish Community Federation, Mr. Coplan led a 16-member "solidarity" mission to Israel. The group met with then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Cabinet officials Moshe Arens and Ariel Sharon.

Services will be held at 11:30 a.m. today at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, 7401 Park Heights Ave.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Coplan is survived by his wife of 58 years, the former Helen Friedman; a son, Lee Coplan of Ruxton; a sister, Florry Glasser of Chapel Hill, N.C.; and two grandchildren.


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