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Susan Barber Coppedge, a Hendersonville native whose bright success in the financial world never dimmed her devotion to her hometown, died Saturday at her home on Cape Cod at the age of 54.
Coppedge, known as Susie, never neglected her hometown despite success in a financial career that helped her and her husband accumulate wealth, friends said. A graduate of UNC at Chapel Hill, she was senior vice president at Morgan Stanley in Boston.
Even though they knew that she had suffered from depression, family members and friends were stunned to learn that Coppedge had taken her own life on Saturday.
A 1978 graduate of Hendersonville High School, Coppedge earned a degree in chemistry from UNC. She started dental school, intending to follow in her father's footsteps, when Dr. Leonard Barber became ill with a brain tumor. She came home to help care for him and ultimately switched her aspiration to finance, where she had great success. She was married to Roy F. "Copey" Coppedge III, a Harvard MBA and banker who in 1983 founded BV Investment Partners, a pioneer among private equity investment firms. The couple owned homes on the waterfront in Boston and in Harwich on Cape Cod. In 2009, they bought a home and 6.4 acres of land on Willow Road near Champion Hills.
Besides her husband, Coppedge is survived by her son, Peter Banks Coppedge; her mother, Constance Clark Howard and her husband, Cliff of Elizabethton, Tenn.; her stepmother, Elizabeth “Betty” Barber Girard of Hendersonville, stepchildren Schuyler Coppedge, and his wife, Irene; Walker Coppedge and his wife, Jill; Luke Coppedge and his wife, Antonella; and Sophie Coppedge Walker and her husband, Brian; grandchildren Grace, Phoebe, Christopher and Luke; brothers John Sheldon Barber and his wife, Kathy of North Augusta, S.C., and Robert Douglass Barber and his wife, Robin of Greenville, S.C.
"She was just a wonderful giving person," said Debbie Rouse, a lifelong friend who has known Susie Barber since high school. "She loved Hendersonville, she loved Hendersonville High School. She built a house here and she loved to come back to her roots."
Girard said she was heartbroken.
"She's been mine from the time she was 9 years old," she said. "She's been my little girl for 45 years." She said she had just today had a chance to be with Susie's two big brothers. "We were just laughing and crying and hugging. It's all you can do."
"Even though she had been gone for 25 years, Susie was still a big supporter of Flat Rock Playhouse and the Hendersonville High School band as well as the stuff that she did in Boston," Girard said. "I just feel like my heart's been ripped out. I hope she's at peace. She just had these demons. She's been dealing with it for about a year and a half. It was a black hole she could not climb out of."
When the Hendersonville High School Band traveled to Boston to play, Coppedge rented the Boston Aquarium for the band, which was made up of around 100 musicians.
"She was just so generous," said Band Director Fran Shelton. "She had the money but she never lost her hometown roots. She contributed a lot to this band program. She found success but she never forgot the people back home, and she wasn't even in our band. We were coming to her town and she was going to take care of us. How many people do you know that would rent a whole aquarium?"
When Coppedge donated a bond to the band, boosters didn't even know how much it was worth.
"We cashed it for $15,000 and bought that baby grand," Shelton said, pointing to the piano the band program has used for the past eight years. "It will always be here."
Coppedge's donation of the aquarium visit and the piano were never covered in news stories or publicly announced. "She never wanted credit," Shelton said. She also was a donor to the Park Street School in Boston, the Inner City Scholarship Fund of Boston, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and UNC.
Locally, friends said they hoped that the family would schedule a memorial service to honor someone who had loved the community and was loved by many back home.
"Susie was a dignified beautiful person," Rouse said. "She was just a giver, and I want her to be memorialized for all that she's done."
Dr. William Lampley traveled to Boston in 2006 when three of his grandchildren played in the HHS Band, which had been invited to Boston Symphony Hall. The Coppedges invited him to stay at their Cape Cod home.
"I've known Susie all her life," Lampley said. "Leonard, her father, was a good friend of mine. In my name she started a scholarship. I don't understand why she picked me to do it. She gave away a scholarship every year for the last four or five years. She was very generous."
A memorial service has been set for Jan. 10 on Cape Cod. None has been set so far in Hendersonville. Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors handled arrangements in Hendersonville.
"I told them Saturday afternoon that he (her husband) and Peter just need to come down here (for a remembrance) even if it was just meeting at their house here and having friends and family and having a drink and telling stories and eating barbecue," Girard said.