Howard University Mourns the Passing of Dr. Robert A. Copeland, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Copeland, Jr., was a leading American ophthalmologist who helped the profession deepen its understanding of disparities and broaden its international reach. Dr. Copeland was the founding chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Howard University College of Medicine. He passed on the evening of Monday, April 11, 2016. He is survived by his wife Candie Copeland and children Kennedie Copeland, Robert Copeland, III, and Lucas Copeland.

Dr. Copeland was widely admired as an advocate for the prevention of eye disease, as a mentor to countless students, and as an expert physician. Robert A. Copeland, Jr., was born on Dec. 13, 1955, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His interest in the condition of the eye arose during his first week as a Fisk University undergraduate in 1973. Playing football, Copeland was injured and had to be treated for blunt trauma to the right eye at Meharry Medical College. After completing his studies at Fisk, Copeland earned a medical degree in 1981 from Temple University School of Medicine. 

Dr. Copeland contributed more than three decades of service to Howard University. In 1982, he arrived at Howard University Hospital as a young ophthalmology resident. Four years later, he joined the Howard University Department of Surgery, Division of Ophthalmology, as an instructor. He was elevated to assistant professor in 1988 and to full professor in 2010. He served as interim chief of the division from 1993 until his campaign to make ophthalmology a stand-alone department was successful in 2000. He was named chair in the document ratifying creation of the Department of Ophthalmology by the Howard University Board of Trustees.

Dr. Copeland has written multiple papers on corneal and external diseases, uveitis, and other diseases of the eye. His research focused on conditions affecting the eye, as well as the socioeconomic and gender disparities in cataract surgery, including factors such as insurance coverage, transportation, and other barriers to access.

In 2012, Dr. Copeland published Copeland and Afshari's Principles and Practice of Cornea, a definitive textbook on the cornea, in conjunction with a Duke University professor. The two-volume work is made up of over 1,500 pages, includes 119 chapters and weighs over 14 pounds. Dr. Copeland also traveled throughout the world to perform humanitarian services for underserved populations. He served the people of Haiti, Saint Lucia, Ghana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Chile, Liberia, Nigeria, and India.

Over the years, Dr. Copeland’s work has drawn numerous awards and accolades. He was frequently honored by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, garnering the Distinguished Service Award, Achievement Award, Council of Appreciation Award, Surgery by Surgeons Award, and the Secretariat Award. He was frequently listed as a “top doctor” in major publications. In 2008, Dr. Copeland received the Professional Service Award from the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington; and in 2013, he garnered an Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society nomination. At Howard University, Dr. Copeland was honored at the Ninth Annual Spirituality and Medicine Seminar in 2005. Howard also honored Dr. Copeland with a Citation of Achievement Award in 2008.

Funeral services for Dr. Copeland will be held at Shiloh Baptist Church, 1500 Ninth Street, N.W., Washington, on Saturday, April 23, 2016. The viewing begins at 9 a.m., and the service begins at 11 a.m. Expressions of sympathy may be sent to the church.

For more information about the service, contact McGuires Funeral Services, (202) 882-6600.

For other inquiries, please reach JoAnn Brandon at (202) 865-3302 or via email

See Dr. Copeland Reflect on the Importance of Diversity in Ophthalmology Education