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Nannie M. Koppelman, former Planned Parenthood Association of Maryland manager and political liberal, dies

Nannie Koppelman was a thoroughgoing liberal in politics.
Nannie Koppelman was a thoroughgoing liberal in politics.(Handout / HANDOUT)

Nannie M. Koppelman, former purchasing manager for the Planned Parenthood Association of Maryland, who pursued and embraced liberal Democratic politics, died Feb. 27 in her sleep at her Roland Park Place apartment. She was 97.

“Nannie was a quiet but a forthright woman, and when you were talking with her, you were very clear where she stood and how she felt about life,” said the Rev. Thomas L. Culbertson, rector emeritus of Emmanuel Episcopal Church and a Towson resident. “She wasn’t opinionated, but held her opinions strongly.”

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“She had a dry, irreverent, understated sense of humor," said a nephew, Charles W. Mitchell of Parkton. “I always found her to be an engaging and intriguing person who didn’t take herself too seriously, but you listened when she said something. She always carried a sense of authority.”

The former Nannie Poultney Mitchell, daughter of Rear. Adm. Charles W. Mitchell Jr., who later managed the Gibson Island Corp. during the 1920s and 1930s, and his wife, Nannie Braxton Dallam, was born in Baltimore and raised in the 4000 block of Greenway in Guilford.

Mrs. Koppelman was a descendant of Carter Braxton, a Virginia politician and planter who signed the Declaration of Independence.

She was a 1940 graduate of the Bryn Mawr School, remaining class secretary until her death, and made her debut that year at the Bachelors Cotillon.

She attended Bryn Mawr College and the University of Oklahoma, where her father was stationed by the Navy in 1942. While living in Norman, Oklahoma, she met and fell in love with John Van Cortlandt Koppelman, a Baltimore native and Army lieutenant who was an ROTC instructor at the University of Oklahoma.

They married in 1943, and after living in Paris, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, returned to Baltimore at the end of World War II, settling into a home on Keswick Road in Roland Park, where they raised their children.

“She had five children, and her boys could be a little rambunctious,” Mr. Mitchell said with a laugh, “but she always remained cool, calm and collected.”

After the birth of her fifth child, Mrs. Koppelman was approached by Dr. Francis Trimble, the medical director of Planned Parenthood, “who recruited her under the guise of introducing her to the concept of birth control,” a son, A. Mitchell “Mitch” Koppelman of Towson, wrote in a biographical profile of his mother.

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Mrs. Koppelman began her 27-year Planned Parenthood career first as a volunteer, later as a paid staff member when she assumed the role of purchasing manager.

“When I started, the agency’s headquarters were in a rowhouse on 25th Street,” Mrs. Koppelman told her son in an interview. “By the time I retired in 1986, the organization’s headquarters were in a large building on Howard Street, with six branch clinics throughout the state.”

Mrs. Koppelman told her son that there were harried times when anti-birth control protesters arrived at the agency’s Howard Street building.

“There was ‘Praying Jack,’ who would lie on the floor at the clinic entrance hall," she said. “We had to step over him and avoid making any physical contact. If he was touched, the protesters would accuse us of assault.”

“While she was working with Planned Parenthood, our friends would come to our Roland Park home for secret birth control and pregnancy counseling,” her son said. “Reluctant to have these conversations with their own parents, they knew she would help them and trusted her to protect their confidentiality, which she did.”

Mrs. Koppelman was given the Planned Parenthood Association of Maryland’s Margaret Sanger Award in 1986.

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A small but stylish woman, she was gifted with a wry sense of humor that she let loose on politicians. When President Richard M. Nixon announced in 1970 that he planned to spray marijuana fields with the herbicide Paraquat, used to kill weeds and grass while at the same time being toxic to humans, she sprang into action.

After obtaining marijuana seeds from her children, Mrs. Koppelman planted her own crop in the garden of her Keswick Road home, “declaring that she refused to let Mr. Nixon poison her children,” her son said.

She was so fixated on the Watergate investigation that she carried a small Sony television with her from room to room so as not to miss a moment of the Senate hearings.

After President Ronald Reagan proposed increasing military spending while cutting taxes and balancing the federal budget, she wondered aloud, “How would that work, exactly?”

His opponent for the presidency in 1980, George H.W. Bush, realized the absurdity of such a proposal as Mrs. Koppelman did, and pronounced Mr. Reagan’s plan as “voodoo economics,” a term that has entered the Washington political lexicon.

“Her contrarian view of Republican economic orthodoxy caused her husband’s many conservative friends’ heads to spin,” her son wrote in the biographical profile.

When Carlin’s Park opened the first area ice rink in 1933, Mrs. Koppelman began skating, and as a member of the Ice Club gave an ice skating performance at Carlin’s Iceland in 1936.

“When the lights were turned on, members of the club sat on a porch depicting a scene in Spain. An orchestra played 'Waltz of the Flowers,’ and Miss Nannie Mitchell skated on the glistening ice. She was roundly applauded for her graceful effort,” wrote a Sun critic at the time.

“Miss Nannie Mitchell , who recently finished sixth in the Junior Novice championships, scored a hit as Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary,” a critic wrote of a 1938 performance at Iceland.

In 1938, she competed in the U.S. Figure Skating national championships in Philadelphia and remained a member of the Ice Club until she was into her 70s. An inveterate sports enthusiast, she played tennis until she was 82, and for many years continued to sail out of Gibson Island aboard the family sloop Coracle.

She was a charter member of the Baltimore Scottish Country Dancers, for which she was secretary and president and occasionally presented classes. She was also a member of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Hamilton Street Club, Mount Vernon Club, Gibson Island Club and L’Hirondelle Club.

Mrs. Koppelman was a collector of Quimper china and enjoyed needlepoint, knitting, puzzles and bridge.

Her husband, who was purchasing manager of Flynn & Emrich, died in 1996. Two years later, she married Dr. John Matthias Kopper, a retired professor of electrical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University. He died in 2013.

“She told me when she married Dr. Kopper that his name was the next 'K' in her Rolodex,” Mr. Mitchell said with a laugh.

Mrs. Koppelman was a longtime communicant of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 811 Cathedral St., where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. April 24.

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In addition to her son, she is survived by another son, Lawrence D. Koppelman of Rollinsville, Colorado; two daughters, Lucy K. Saunders of Weston, Massachusetts, and Grace K. Drown of Wayne, Maine; a stepson, Dr. John M. Kopper Jr. of Norwich, Vermont; a stepdaughter, Lula B. Kopper of Arlington, Massachusetts; a brother, Braxton D. Mitchell of Ruxton; and 11 grandchildren. Another daughter, Elizabeth K. White, died in 2019.

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