Albert E. Copolillo
1954 - 2021
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, vcu. edu/ give/occu. A ceremony of remembrance is being planned for September.
Published by Richmond Times-Dispatch on May 26, 2021.
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8 Entries
Karen Legato
June 25, 2021
My deepest sympathies to Al's family, colleagues, and students of all times. Having witnessed Al's ability to lead with such kindness and grace was inspiring. I feel honored to have worked for him even in the limited capacity of summer adjunct professor for incoming students. His legacy and impact is far-reaching.
Cara Cario
June 1, 2021
I supervised Al in Chicago in the early 90´s. He was such a calming influence at a chaotic time of transition at the University of Illinois. My heart goes out to his family. May prayers and memories sustain you during this difficult period of the journey of life
Ellen Scherling
May 27, 2021
I did not know Al well but knew him through his leadership. I pray for his family and friends and am grateful for the impact he has made and the many many lives that he touched knowingly and unknowingly.
Heather Javaherian
May 27, 2021
I lived two doors down from Al in Roseland. I went to High School with him also. I remember him as an intelligent and good person. My condolences to his wife, son, family and friends.
Claudette Pittacora Minghetti
May 27, 2021
Al Copolillo made the world a better place - through his professional work, through the work of his students, and through just being the caring person that he was. Those who had the good fortune to spend time with him are better for it.
Christine Reid
May 26, 2021
I am so sorry that we lost one of the really nice people. I feel very fortunate to have shared a bit of time with him.
Ron Sauer
May 26, 2021
My condolences to Kathy and sons, Al was everything to me. I will never forget this man of class, kindness and patience. He wowed me, kept me in awe and always treated everyone with so much grace. I am glad I had the opportunity to work for the best supervisor ever. (Even though he insisted I call him my co-worker). He was and will stay my G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all times)
Adriene Johnson
May 26, 2021
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