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Editorial: Home is where the heart is for Mr. Copsey

Editorial Indiana Lawyer
February 2, 2011
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Indiana Lawyer Editorial

We often think of law enforcement officers and firefighters as first-responder types who venture into situations where others are reluctant to go.

We’d like to expand the definition of first responder a bit, and bring your attention to an Indianapolis lawyer who after retiring from his day job years ago decided he wasn’t quite done practicing law. He went to work for Indianapolis Legal Aid Society, where he works with elderly residents whose living situations put them at risk of losing their homes. It’s a situation where Orville Copsey Jr. uses his skills as a social worker, which was his first calling, as much as he does his lawyering skills.

At age 79, Mr. Copsey works for ILAS through a grant aimed at keeping elderly residents in their homes. He’s been with ILAS since 1997.
 

Orville Copsey Copsey

Imagine a little bungalow with a fenced-in yard, yet with what looks like the entire contents of the home covering the lawn. The health department has learned that an older person is squatting there – sleeping there at night at least, but it has no running water or electricity, as it was the subject of a tax sale some months back.

It’s not the kind of situation most of us would relish the thought of driving by, never mind stopping in to try and offer assistance.

But this is now Mr. Copsey’s day job, and the world – at least Indianapolis – is a better place because he’s willing to do it.

We surmise he’s so successful at his work because he’s a peer of the people he’s aiming to help. He keeps his car trunk full of cleaning supplies so he can get to work right away, as well as a pet carrier when the homeowner has too many pets to keep safely. He keeps the pet carrier because he can whisk away the animals that are creating a risk for the homeowner more discreetly than can the city’s animal control department.

And instead of showing up at the door dressed as though he were ready to get to work grubbing out the place, he keeps a suit jacket purchased at a second-hand store to wear to initial client meetings. We admire that – he goes into these situations dressed like a lawyer, which has to help the homeowner maintain a sense of dignity.

With his talk of liberating the kitchen and rescuing the sink, it’s easy to tell he enjoys what he does. The “before” photos of one of his cases would tend to point to an unhappy ending, but that turned out to not be the case. This particular homeowner with the liberated kitchen and rescued sink is still at home, nearly four years after becoming one of Mr. Copsey’s clients.

Not all have such good outcomes, but his social work background helps him assess which clients have the physical, mental, and financial ability to keep the home in a state of habitability, and which ones he will need to help find suitable living arrangements.

Mr. Copsey has won the admiration of not only his clients and coworkers at ILAS, but also the people at the Marion County Health Department who assign him cases.

“There are cases where I have no doubt that they could not have been brought to completion but for his involvement,” said MCHD attorney Amy Jones. “It’s who he is, not just where he works. He’s committed to public service and he appreciates and understands the plight of the people he works with.”

And he’s a splendid example of someone with a different definition of the word “retired.” What better way to stay active, engaged in the world, and happy than to find a truly meaningful way to contribute to the world around you.

We want to be like Mr. Copsey when we’re 79.•

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