Donald Eugene Copeland

On July 13, 2006, Professor Gene Copeland passed away peacefully in his home, while holding the hand of his beloved wife of 65 years, Marjorie Groves Copeland.

Born in Mendon, Ohio in 1912, he attended Findlay College, received an AB from Rochester University (1935), an MA from Amherst College, and a PhD in Biology from Harvard University (1941). Additionally, Gene was a summer scholar/fellow at the Marine Biological Station in Bermuda (1939) and Atkins Institute (Harvard Station) in Cienfuegos, Cuba (1941). In 1942, he joined the US Army Air Corp, was commissioned to the School of Aviation Medicine and attended the first class of Aviation Physiologists at Randolph Field, TX. He then chose duty assignment at Peterson Field in Colorado Springs, CO (“because they were flying the highest at that time”), implemented the first low-pressure chamber, and directed the first high-altitude physiological training unit (for Photo Recon).

While serving in the military, he learned to fly and obtained a private pilot’s license. He separated from the service in 1946 as a Captain. In 1951, at the beginning of the Korean War, he was requested by the Office of the Surgeon General USAF at the Pentagon to reactivate and serve as Director (GS-15; 1951 – 1953) for the Air Force’s Aviation Physiology Training Program. As part of his duties, he chaired a NATO conference on aviation physiology in Brussels, Belgium (1952). Professor Copeland taught at the University of N.C. Chapel Hill (1941 – 1942), Brown University (1946 – 1950), and Tulane University (1959 – 1977; Emeritus). While at Tulane, he was Chairman of the Biology Department and with grants from National Institute of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) obtained a research vessel to collect specimens from the Gulf of Mexico as well as the extensive estuaries of the Mississippi delta. Dr. Copeland also worked for the Medical Science Division, National Academy of Science, National Research Council (1953 – 1956), and as Executive Secretary of the Morphology and Genetics Study Section in the Division of Research Grants, NIH (1956 – 1959) in Washington, DC. While at the NIH, he successfully renamed the Morphology Section to Cell Biology Study Section, being instrumental in the recognition of cell biology as a separate discipline. Together with his mentor, friend and peer, Keith Porter, Gene was actively involved in implementation of electron microscope technology and morphology interpretation.

Professor Copeland was a Trustee Emeritus of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). His association with the MBL began in 1936 as a summer scholar in Embryology. From 1959, he spent most summers doing research at the MBL. Gene’s primary research interest was in the cellular mechanisms whereby animals maintain their internal salt and water balance. His research career in the area of cytology included osmoregulation of salt-transport tissues (“chloride cells” in fish gills; blue crab gills; Bermuda land crabs; mosquito larva; and brine shrimp from Utah’s Great Salt Lake), gas-secreting tissues (secretion of carbon monoxide into the float of Portuguese-Man-of-War; metabolic, chemical and physical mechanisms that allow fish to release high pressures of oxygen – up to 300 atmospheres – into the swim bladder), and vascularization and functioning of the fish eye (fine structure of the choroid body and lentiform body; rete mirabilis, vascular counter-current system, responsible for elevating oxygen tension up to 20x that usually found in other retinas by incremental release of dissolved oxygen at relatively low pressures), and luminescent organs in midwater fish. In 1977 Gene retired to his home in Woods Hole, but continued for several years doing published research at the MBL. An NSF deep sea grant of Gene’s (1980 – 1983) triggered support from UNOLS ship support program to furnish research cruises for WHOI, Canadian, and Texas A&M vessels. Gene was Chief Scientist on two separate Oceanus cruises in 1981 and 1982, as well as a collaborative investigator on nine additional deep sea expeditions from 1978 to 1987. Dr. Copeland produced numerous scientific articles. His last publication, Origins of Cell Biology in the United States, appeared in Faseb J (13(2): S181-184) in 1999.

Gene was president of his junior class at Findlay College and President of Gamma Alpha Scientific Fraternity at Harvard. He received the Fort Findlay Meritorious Citizen Award (1977), and the US Air Force Certificate of Appreciation for organizing and being the first Director of the Aerospace Physiology Program (awarded at a reunion of Directors, 1989, at the School of Aviation Medicine, TX). Dr. Copeland was also listed in Who’s Who and was a member of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (Edward Fuller).

Besides being a dedicated marine biologist, Gene was also an excellent marksman and enjoyed numerous successful hunting trips to Texas, Maine and Montana. He was a member of the Falmouth Rod and Gun Club.

In addition to his loving wife, Marjorie, he is survived by his two daughters, Jane Morton of Leesburg, FL, Diana Haines of Taneytown, MD, six grandchildren, Ben Cestnik of Belgrade, MT, Katie and Megan Morton of Leesburg, FL, Daniel, Marjorie and Rebecca Haines of Taneytown, MD as well as several nieces, nephews and their families. He was preceded in death by one daughter, Sandra Kay, and two brothers, Norman and Leo.

A memorial service for Gene will be held at the MBL later this summer. Memorial contributions may be made to the Marine Biological Laboratory (Water St, Woods Hole, MA 02543), the Woods Hole Library (Main St, Woods Hole, MA 02543), or a charity of choice.