TAMPA — As a flight attendant, Stephen Coplen got bonus points for doing what came naturally to him — pleasing customers. In unprompted letters to Delta Airlines, they wrote about the flight attendant who brought smiles to their faces. The company rewarded him with "good letter passes" to stay a little longer in India, Bali, Hawaii and other favorite spots.
"He was just so nice to people," said Delta flight attendant Bethany Burke, who knew Coplen for 30 years.
Mr. Coplen died on Thursday in his Tampa home of a heart attack. He was 52.
His father died when Stephen was 6, also of a heart attack. In the family, the young Mr. Coplen was a quiet mediator, a unifier. Always well groomed, he served as class president at Monroe Middle and Robinson High schools, and as a senior won the Anderson Award, given to the best all-around student.
After graduating from the University of South Florida, Mr. Coplen attended Oral Roberts University and thought about becoming a minister. Instead, he got a job at Delta, where he sometimes served as a coordinator, or head flight attendant, on international flights.
He brought his mother coffee and candies whenever he visited her native Germany, and learned to speak the language. When a family friend couldn't get the wallpaper she needed in the United States, he found it for her in London.
At home in Tampa, Mr. Coplen lavished food on others. His carrot cake was "high and very moist," said his sister, Heidi Coplen, 49. "You could taste the carrots."
He made lunch for the workers at his home and left a cooler outside for the yard service. He did the same for strangers.
"We could be driving down the road," Heidi said, "and if there was someone walking down Dale Mabry that looked like they could use a shower or looked like they could use a meal, he would just pull into a restaurant."
Mr. Coplen sometimes allowed strangers into his home for a shower and clean clothes. He told his brother everything would be okay. "As wonderful as it was," said Bobby Coplen, 54, "it was always without regard for what was left in his wallet, what was left in his refrigerator."
On Thursday, Mr. Coplen was preparing a lemon Jell-O cake for his mother's 87th birthday. When he didn't show up, Heidi called the police, who forced their way into his home.
Mr. Coplen's family marvels that his death came on his mother's birthday, which was also the 30th anniversary of his employment with Delta.
In an untimely year, at least the date seemed right.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2431.