Family and friends remembered former Smiths Station Mayor F.L. “Bubba” Copeland as a “larger than life figure” who was devoted to his family as they gathered for his funeral Thursday at the First Baptist Church of Phenix City where he was a pastor.
Carter Copeland said the greatest lesson he learned from his father “was something he so immensely struggled with. He encouraged me to ‘make my happy.’
“He told me that this was his way of ‘making happy’ was by uplifting as many people as possible during his day,” he said, recalling the time he and his father went to a McDonald’s drive-thru and encountered an irritable worker.
“My dad looked at her and he told her – the craziest woman I’ve ever seen in my life – that her hair looked good. I was mortified but she smiled from ear to ear,” he said. “And while that may not have been true, that was my father’s way of at least touching one person throughout his day.”
“When you are faced with …. obstacles or just downright awful, awful people, just be reliant on the Lord and fight with kindness and a pure heart,” Carter Copeland said. “This is the greatest lesson my father has ever taught me.”
Despite his immense heartbreak, Carter said, “I know that my dad made me strong, he taught me right.
“So I promise to get through this and fight to bring love to this awfully dark world,” he said. “I will choose happiness when others choose bitterness. … Dad, I want you to know my world always has and will always begin with you and end with you. Regardless of the hate, I will respond with love.”
Copeland, a 49-year-old father of three, took his own life Friday evening in Lee County, two days after 1819 News published photos of him wearing women’s clothing and makeup. 1819 News is a website that was once owned by the Alabama Policy Institute.
An additional 1819 News post on Nov. 3, the same day Copeland killed himself, accused him of using the names and photos of local residents, including a minor, without permission in posts, including the real name of a local businesswoman in a fictional story about a man who develops a deadly obsession with taking over her identity.
Mourners focused on Copeland’s life of service rather than his final dark days.
The Rev. Jim Wooten, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Jackson, described the moment he met Bubba Copeland at a fundraiser for the First Baptist Church of Phenix City’s youth program as “mythical.
“I remembered this larger than life figure emerging from a cloud of barbeque smoke .. with sweat pouring off his brow,” Wooten said.
Wooten told of the advice he gave to the pastor who succeeded him at Phenix City’s Methodist church, encouraging the pastor to meet Bubba.
“Bubba is a delightful raconteur and a fresh wind of the sprit – get to know him,” Wooten said.
The reverend said he didn’t know if the pastor heeded his advice, but added, “I cant imagine anyone getting to heaven from here on out without getting to know Bubba.”
Wooten recalled officiating Copeland’s marriage ceremony on the steps of Smiths Station City Hall and how the mayor supported the city after deadly tornadoes in 2019. Friday would be their fifth anniversary.
“If there was anything Bubba loved nearly as much as his family it was his city,” Wooten said.
“The devastation that y’all face after the tornadoes was incredible. But greater still was the response from Bubba as he marshalled the forces at FEMA, the [Alabama] Forestry Commission, even the federal government. He was able to help others, to provide support for their own communities as well.
“It all happened because this man loved his city,” he said.
But Copeland also had demons, Wooten said, adding that both he and his friend had “that old black dog that followed us, that black dog of depression.”
Tearing up, Wooten told mourners, “whatever struggle you may be facing, you are not alone.
“If you don’t have anybody close enough to reach out to, dial 988, put it in your phone. 9-8-8. It’s the suicide and crisis hotline. There is a caring individual there waiting to listen to you. You are precious, you have meaning, you are important,” he said.
Before becoming Smiths Station’s mayor in 2016, Copeland was on the Lee County Board of Education from 2008 until 2016.
He was also a businessman, operating the Country Market grocery store in Salem.
“He may have been the hardest-working person I’ve ever met,” recalled David White, a friend of Copeland’s for 30 years, during his eulogy.
Copeland, whose favorite saying was, “Ain’t God Good?” was a “proud father” to his three children: Carter, AbbyKate and Ally, White said.
White spoke of how Copeland, an avid wrestling fan, proposed to his wife, Angela, at a wrestling event.
“Amazingly, she accepted,” White joked. “I used to tell him he was a redneck romantic.”
The longtime friend implored mourners to learn the lessons of Copeland’s death.
“The tragedy from this week will be compounded if we, his friends, do nothing,” he said, adding that the late mayor’s attackers and critics “will move on to feed their voracious appetites on someone else.
“If the next time a friend becomes the focus of hate, may we all speak up a little sooner and a little louder to at least say, ‘this is my friend.’ If we can do that, then we may say we learned,” White said.
“If these changes in us make our small part of this world a little kinder, a little more understanding, a little more loving one to another, then we, too, soon enough will be able to say what Bubba said: ‘Ain’t God Good?’”