COPOLILLO, Albert E., "Al," died peacefully at home on May 21, 2021, family at bedside, after a long and determined battle with lung cancer. Across his career as an occupational therapist and professor, and for a decade as chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University, he was known for his caring, collaborative and humble brand of leadership. He is remembered by all for his kindness, gentle demeanor and brilliance in supporting others in need.
Al grew up playing in city parks on Chicago's Southside and was the first member of his family to attend college, graduating in 1976 from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He acquired a master's degree in occupational therapy from the University of Puget Sound, where he developed professional skills in helping others and a lifelong passion for the outdoors. He returned to Chicago, where he worked for 15 years as a clinician, clinical supervisor and instructor and achieved a Ph.D. in Public Health from the University of Illinois.
Al and his family arrived in Richmond in 1997, when he joined the faculty of the Department of Occupational Therapy at VCU, achieving tenured status in 2004, rising to chair and program director in 2009 until his retirement two years ago. Al taught generations of occupational therapy students, pursued research in geriatrics, low vision, health disparities, and assistive technology, and directed the OT department's transition from a Master's to Doctoral level program, while publishing widely and serving on many national and statewide professional service committees.
An active citizen of the greater Richmond community, Al was a founding member and later board president of Seven Hills School and was an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond. In his spare time, Al shared his love of the outdoors with his family and friends, their vacations full of camping, hiking and biking.
The through-line in Al's life – noted universally by his patients, students, colleagues and friends – is kindness. Al's positive impact and example of caring were reflected back to him through dozens of messages of admiration and gratitude received from colleagues, students and friends from all walks of life during his last days. Al touched the lives of so many. It was of this that he was most proud: that he left his department and profession more equitable and inclusive than he found them.
Al was preceded in death by his parents, Albert and Alice; and his sisters, Cindy and Sandi. He is survived by his wife, Kathy (Ryan); his son, Christopher and daughter-in-law, Maria; his son, Benjamin; his sister, Colleen Hughes and her husband, Dan; and his sister, Anita and her husband, Steve. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: Al B. Benson III M.D. Cancer Research Fund Division of Hematology-Oncology, Northwestern University, 676 North St. Clair St., Suite 850, Chicago, 60611 or the Occupational Therapy Fund of The College of Health Sciences, https://www.support
. vcu. edu/ give/occu. A ceremony of remembrance is being planned for September.
Published by Richmond Times-Dispatch on May 26, 2021.