The Pittsburgh Foundation

In Remembrance: Pittsburgh Foundation Board Leader William J. Copeland

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 19, 2017 – When Bill Copeland’s service in the 1980s and 1990s on the Foundation’s Board of directors, including extraordinary leadership as chair, was set to end in 1999, the first order of business of the Governance Committee was a unanimous vote to appoint him to the Executive Committee in emeritus status.

His fellow board members and senior staff did not want to lose the breadth of his experience across a wide range of work sectors – from business to law to civic affairs to arts-and-culture management in the region. They also, as the minutes of the Dec. 6 committee meeting reports, “. . . highly value his steady hand in ensuring a smooth leadership transition.”

The groundwork he laid, working in concert with then Executive Director Alfred “Burr” Wishart, positioned the Foundation for extraordinary growth in ensuing decades as well as strategic grantmaking that has improved the quality of life for residents across the region.

“In response to the sad news of Bill’s death Feb. 16, I know I am speaking for all members of The Pittsburgh Foundation family – board members, staff, grantees, donors and community partners – that there is a deep sense of loss over losing such a phenomenal leader,” said Foundation President and CEO Maxwell King. “But there also is such tremendous admiration and gratitude for his extraordinary contributions.”

King said Copeland’s steady hand as leader and member of the board, and a trustee of his own fund at the Foundation “not only guided community philanthropy through years of strong growth, but established the Foundation as a civic leader in bringing power centers together to solve significant problems, and to maximize available opportunities to improve quality of life for those most in need.”

In his own assessment of the community philanthropy’s progress during his period of service, Copeland, in an oral history interview for the Foundation’s archives, cited reputational capital as important an asset as the amount of grant making dollars.

“We weren’t the philanthropy with the most money to throw around back then,” Copeland said of the mid-1980s through the 1990s. “But we had enough, and we had a lot of community goodwill so that when we rang the bell, people came and sat down and discussed things.”

Copeland of Catawba Island, Ohio and Mt. Lebanon in Pittsburgh, was a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He rose through the ranks of Pittsburgh National Bank to become executive vice president of the trust division, and later became vice chair of PNC Financial Corp. After his retirement in 1983, he continued board service for many other corporations and nonprofit organizations.

For more on his business career, civic engagement, charitable contributions and family life, please click here to read The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary

Learn more about Bill Copeland by reading this tribute by former Pittsburgh Foundation President & CEO Burr Wishart.