Raymond Parke Coppinger, 80, of Montague, Mass., died of cancer on August 14, 2017.
He was born in Boston to Frances W. Sheppard and J. Raymond Coppinger, and grew up in nearby Arlington and Weston. After a two-year stint on scientific vessels with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, he attended Boston University and earned his AB degree in English literature in 1959. While studying there, he met Lorna Lowry Baxter, of Lexington, and they were married in 1958.
Ray and Lorna moved to Montague in the early 1960s, while Ray studied for his PhD in biology at the University of Massachusetts. He was appointed to the brand-new faculty at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., in 1969, and the couple then built a home in Montague. Two children, Karyn and Tim, were born in the 1960s.
The home and surrounding lands would become a classroom, too, where during his 36 years at Hampshire, Ray and his students rolled up their collective sleeves to “ask the question,” and a place where his students became extended family and good friends.
Ray instigated many hands-on learning programs, such as the Caribbean Studies Program, the Livestock Dog Project, and the Hampshire College Farm Center, as well as extended field trips to, for example, Zanzibar, Venezuela, Italy, Saint Kitts, and the Mexico City dump. Students attending Ray’s popular classes — the Behavior and Ethology of Canids, for instance — were challenged to critically read the primary literature and scrutinize the prevailing thinking.
As a scientist also committed to wildlife conservation, he made a significant contribution to the non-lethal control of predators on ranches and farms across the United States, and extended the project to countries in Europe and Asia. In 1990 he received the Chevron Conservation Award for “outstanding contributions to the conservation of our natural resources.”
Ray attracted funding to support his dog research and educational projects from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and the Interior, and the states of Missouri and New Mexico.
For 12 years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, hobby became research, and vice versa, when Ray undertook a stint as a musher, racing sled dogs at small towns throughout New England. Involving family, neighbors, and friends (as with everything he did), he studied the physiology and behavior of running dogs. As sportsman and competitor, he was voted Sportsman of the Year by the New England Sled Dog Club in 1973 and won the Challenge Trophy that same year.
Ray is the author, along with Lorna and several colleagues, of four books about dogs, one of which has been translated into five languages. He published more than 60 scientific articles, and appeared in documentaries for the BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, the History Channel, and PBS. After his retirement from Hampshire College, in 2005, he lectured about dog behavior and evolution around the world. Although most of the books are “serious dog books,” as Lorna calls them, Ray’s virtuosity and love of both fishing and dogs inspired him to write Fishing Dogs, a spoof whose make-believe canids do the most extraordinary things.
Ray was such a teller of adventure tales that listeners would wonder about their verity, unless, of course, they happened to have been on that particular adventure. Right to the end, his stories, recounting the business of living as outlandishly funny and exciting, were told with delightful affection.
As a professor of biology, Ray considered his affiliation with his students and their education to be the most significant achievement of his life. Dozens of graduates from Hampshire College, Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts, as well as European university graduates, became friends and colleagues, responding to his engaging and dedicated style, his humor, and his deep knowledge of the subject. A recent letter from a graduate who was on a “wild canoe trip up in Canada” of about 300 miles writes of Ray’s “enthusiasm, broad knowledge, and sense of fun.” Former students also say, “I’m a student of science by his inspiration,” and “Once you’re a student of his, you’re a student of his for life.”
Ray is survived by his wife, Lorna; his children, Karyn and Tim, and their spouses, Craig Kling and Lise Marshall Coppinger; his grandchildren, Isabelle, Josephine, and Tai; and his cousin, Barry Coppinger. A memorial service is planned for later this year at Hampshire College.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, donations in Ray’s memory can be made to the Lorna and Ray Coppinger Endowment Fund at Hampshire College, established in their honor to support student and faculty science research in the field.
Celebrate and Remember
The Coppinger family and the College invite you to join us on campus for a service in celebration of Ray’s life on:
Saturday, November 11, 2017
Robert Crown Center
All are welcome, though an RSVP is requested.
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