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College of Science News

James Kopp remembered as friend, teacher who cared

James Kopp
James Kopp

Family, friends, colleagues and former students of longtime UT Arlington psychology associate professor James Kopp gathered to celebrate his life March 26 at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens.

Dr. Kopp, who died on Nov. 19, 2010 at age 75 of esophageal cancer, spent 40 years as a faculty member at UT Arlington, and while he was highly regarded by many for his knowledge and expertise in behavioral analysis, he will be remembered even more for his compassion, generosity, kindness and his desire to make the world a better place.

The memorial service was held at the pavilion of the Japanese Garden, with the Paul Unger Trio providing jazz music before and after the service. Dr. Kopp was a talented baritone saxophone player and avid jazz lover; his saxophone was displayed in front of the podium where attendees shared their memories of him.

One by one, friends, colleagues, former students and family members came to the podium, sharing stories and sentiments about Dr. Kopp and expressing what he meant to them.

His former students spoke of how Dr. Kopp affected their lives with his compassion, his knowledge and his willingness to be a friend and mentor. He took a personal interest in the lives of all his students and stayed in touch with many of them long after they graduated and began their careers. Some in attendance took classes under Dr. Kopp as far back as the early 1970s.

Those in attendance spoke of how he influenced their lives and helped shape them in ways some didn’t even understand until years later. They spoke of his patient way of debating. They spoke of his love of jazz music - other than the Beatles, he had little use for most popular music - and of his love of fine wine, good food and of getting in his car and driving, for the sheer love of seeing new places.

“He was a very gentle, kind person, a shaper,” said Gordon Borland, who was Dr. Kopp’s first teaching assistant when Dr. Kopp began working at UT Arlington in 1970. “I can look back now and realize how much I owe him. He was very patient; he put up with my ignorance and lack of knowledge. He was very sensitive to the needs of people. He had great social and societal concerns, and he acted on those.”

Lori Norris, coordinator of special programs for the College of Science, told of her first experience working with faculty on a youth summer science camp.

“Dr. Kopp was the first faculty member to volunteer his time with the event, and he was very excited about it,” Norris said. “At his own expense, he bought lab coats for each of the campers and had their names embroidered on them. He wanted to make it a fun experience for the students. He was so giving of his time and talents.”

Verne Cox, a former dean of the College of Science, arrived at UT Arlington in 1970 along with Dr. Kopp and Paul Paulus, also a former dean of science. He spoke fondly of the numerous parties hosted by Dr. Kopp years ago and said Dr. Kopp set an example of what a compassionate psychology professor should be.

“You think of honesty, integrity and idealism when you think of Jim,” Cox said.

Said Paulus, “I found him to be a great colleague. His students loved him and were drawn to him. He always received phenomenal evaluations from students, because he cared about people. He leaves behind a great legacy.”

Dr. Kopp’s daughter, Dana Kopp Franklin, said her father taught her the scientific method and said many people commented to her about how much better they felt after going to his office and having a chat with him. Dr. Kopp’s son, Jon, spoke of how his father and late mother, Dona, made a wonderful couple and of how their relationship endured.

“Our mom was a ballet dancer, very athletic, a real catch,” Jon Kopp said. “She and Dad would sit and talk, just the two of them. They loved to talk and make plans about how to make a better world. When Mom died about 20 years ago, Dad had a really hard time. He was in despair. What got him through it was all of you. He was able to reconnect himself to people as a friend, mentor, colleague and teacher.”

Dr. Kopp was born July 25, 1935, in Ashland, Ohio. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1950s. He received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in 1960, an M.A. from the University of Michigan in 1962 and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1967. While at Michigan, he worked as a research assistant, a teaching fellow, and a lecturer in psychology.

He was an assistant professor of psychology at the Claremont Graduate School from 1967-70, and then joined the UT Arlington faculty, where he worked for the next 40 years. Among his many courses was an Introduction to Psychology class which he taught continuously since his first semester at UT Arlington in Fall 1970.

Dr. Kopp also served the Psychology Department and the University in numerous other capacities, including as a mentor for the McNair Scholars Program (1998, 2004-10); as a member of the College of Science curriculum committee (2000-04); as chair of the department's undergraduate curriculum committee (2000-04); and as an instructor in the University's Summer Outreach Program (1999, 2001, 2003). He also served 12 years as a graduate advisor.

He received numerous awards for his teaching and outreach work, including the Dean's Award for Outstanding Lecture on Careers in Psychology (1992) and the College of Science Outstanding Teaching Award (2006). He was a nominee for the Arlington Star-Telegram's Outstanding Community Service Award in 2002.

Dr. Kopp volunteered his time as a consultant for various organizations, including the Arlington, Fort Worth and Dallas public school districts; the Child Study Center in Fort Worth; the Easter Seal Society; the Fort Worth State School; the Research and Training Center in Mental Retardation at Texas Tech University; and the Richmond State School in Houston. He was also a community advocate for clients' rights at the Fort Worth State School and was appointed to the Public Responsibility Committee of the Tarrant County Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.

In accordance with Dr. Kopp's wishes, his body was donated to UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.

Dr. Kopp was preceded in death by his wife, Dona (Osborne) Kopp, and parents, Paul and Mary Kopp. In addition to his son Jon of New York City, daughter Dana and son-in-law Jeff Franklin of Nashville, Tenn., he is survived by a brother, Bud Kopp of North Canton, Ohio.

At the conclusion of the memorial service, the guests joined together in singing the John Lennon song, “Imagine.” Dana Kopp Franklin said it was a fitting tribute, with one line in particular describing her father perfectly:

“You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”