Reggie Copeland Sr., the Nappie winner for Quintessential Mobilian, has witnessed both the death and rebirth of Brookley Aeroplex and had a hand in shaping the form of government now in control of the city. Moving with his family to Mobile from Tuscaloosa in 1942, Copeland remembers the excitement firsthand.
“It was the place to be,” he said. “It was hopping.”
His father relocated to take a job at Brookley Air Force Base during its heyday. The former city councilman said a brother joined him as well. When the base shut down in 1969, it was devastating, he said.
“Jobs weren’t very plentiful,” Copeland said. “Many people I knew had to move to California [and] Florida.”
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The closure affected other aspects of community life. The United Fund, now known as United Way, had trouble securing charitable donations. Despite the economic strain, Copeland never wanted to leave Mobile, even with offers to move to such locales as New Orleans.
“Mobile is a very special place for me,” he said. “I had opportunities to go to other places, but I stayed in Mobile. I liked the city and I like what it had to offer.”
Copeland had his first brush with politics in the early 1970s with a run for the Alabama Legislature. He lost by 800 votes but caught the political bug.
“It was quite an experience,” Copeland said.
The failed legislative run helped him be better prepared when the city launched its first elections after it shifted from an at-large commission government to a city council with district representatives. In August 1985, Copeland ran against eight other contenders and won the District 5 seat. He represented the district for 28 years, running unopposed after 1993.
“If someone is doing a good job, you leave them alone,” Copeland said. “It was a good thing [running unopposed] because I hated asking my friends for money.”
In those 28 years, Copeland had a big influence on the city. During that time, he became known as the sports and recreation liason of the city council, one fostered by his background as a college basketball referee. The highlights of his council career, as he tells it, include being involved with discussions that eventually led to the formation of Magnolia Grove Golf Course, as well as working to improve what is now known as the Copeland-Cox Tennis Center, named partially in his honor. During his tenure on the council the center expanded to 60 courts.
“It’s outstanding,” Copeland said. “It’s good economic development for the city.”
In addition to those accomplishments, Copeland said he was also involved in discussions to give St. Louis Street rare two-way access downtown. He called it a “jewel.”
Copeland decided not to run for re-election in 2013 and has since semi-retired. After his first wife, Betty, passed away, he married Jean Johnson.
Copeland has five adult children: Reggie Jr., Riley, Randy, Russ and Gayle. He and Jean have 23 grandchildren between them and two great-grandchildren.