The grand old landlady of Rehoboth Beach, Del.

The Baltimore Sun

The death notices for my old friend Grace Shockley Copper ran in at least four newspapers, in Baltimore, Wilmington, Del., and Washington, as well as her home in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Grace, who died at age 86 on Aug. 23, was entirely up to the billing of three big cities and the small town where she earned a reputation as an unforgettable person.

Here was a woman who made a deep and wide impression, although she never ventured far from the home where she was born and spent all her life. No. 13 Newcastle St. is a large, four-square house in the ocean block. Her father built it, and at her request, her wake was held there -- her body set out on an enclosed porch, just down the street from the beach, where she used to swim.

How appropriate. In the 40 years I knew Grace, she was rarely seen in the summer months without her bathing suit. Years ago, we wondered if she wore a wool model in the winter.

For more than 15 summers, Grace was our landlady. She duly emerged as a bigger-than-life character and one of the grand presences of summertime Rehoboth.

Her father had been with the Pennsylvania Railroad and invested in seaside real estate decades ago. She found herself running his empire after his death and the untimely passing of her own husband. For many years, she was a single mom and business entrepreneur.

On Saturday mornings, when Grace's homes and apartments turned over in the seasonal weekly vacation rental trade, she was out there, supervising cleaning crews, airing and flipping mattresses as if they were made of paper. Grace was never afraid of hard work. After four or five houses and as many apartments were scoured and bleached, she then served a big lunch to all her helpers. I can hear her deep voice and hearty laugh.

When it came time to paying her rent, she could add a column of numbers like the math whiz and University of Delaware graduate she was.

A good Methodist, Grace had some views on summertime behavior. She also kept a sharp eye on my brother and sisters, even though we were rather tightly chaperoned. But summer is summer, and stuff happens.

One year my sister Mimi, then a Johns Hopkins undergraduate, decided she would split from the family nest (which Grace owned) and take her own apartment. Without realizing what she was doing, my sister rented from a rival real estate firm and wound up in a house directly behind Grace's. To make matters worse, Grace could see -- and hear -- what was going on.

Soon Grace began calling my mother in Baltimore with reports of what she'd observed. Grace, always on chatting terms with the local police, would turn my sister in on charges of loud noise or whatever.

Mimi was up to the challenge. She promptly started dating the summertime police officers. She also worked out a deal with the cops: When Grace called, the police would tip Mimi off by saying that the guys in blue were on the way to her apartment. Mimi later confided to me she enjoyed a lovely social life that summer.

One night about 10:30, I was talking with my mother at the old family home on Guilford Avenue when the phone rang. Grace was calling to say that Mimi, who had been joined by her younger sister, Josie, was making a terrible noise by dragging cans around.

For all the summer, my mother had held her temper and good manners -- after all, Grace was still her landlady and owned some real estate, and my mother did not want to lose her privileges.

But this was too much.

"Grace Copper, you're a damn liar," my mother said. "Those Kelly girls have never taken out trash in their lives."

After that exchange, peace reigned.

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