MACHIASPORT, Maine — A Machiasport man who was killed Tuesday in a single-vehicle accident in Knox County had carved out a simple, unusual lifestyle, but despite his affinity for solitude he was recalled as a “people person.”
William Coperthwaite, 83, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident in Washington on Tuesday afternoon.
He was to be buried near his home in a private ceremony on Saturday, according to Peter Forbes of Fayston, Vt., a photographer who collaborated with him on a book. A celebration of Coperthwaite’s life will be held in the spring, he added.
Coperthwaite lived in a house modeled after a yurt, a traditional Mongolian home built in a circular fashion. He was an advocate of yurts, led yurt-building workshops and lectures and created a foundation dedicated to promoting yurts.
He lived in a remote area in the village of Bucks Harbor, about two miles from the nearest road. Coperthwaite lived without a phone, running water or electricity — he had solar-powered lights. He got his water from a brook, had a yurt for an outhouse, and used a wood stove for cooking and heat.
“It’s the best way I know,” Coperthwaite said in a 2003 interview, describing his lifestyle on a 400-acre tract with waterfront along the serene harbor. “Each of us tries to live in the best way we know how. I want to contribute to the problems of the world as little as possible. I really believe we must find simpler ways to live or society will collapse.”
Despite the solitary, Walden-like lifestyle he chose for himself, he was far from a hermit and did not eschew relationships with people, according to William Holmes, pastor of the Larrabee Baptist Church in Machiasport.
“Everybody in Machiasport thought the world of him,” Holmes, a former member of the town’s Board of Selectmen, said Wednesday.
“He was very cordial and interested in having people come [visit],” said Holmes. “His home was always open.”
“He was an average guy. … He certainly was not standoffish,” said Holmes.
Coperthwaite’s interests went far beyond living a simple lifestyle in an unusual home and teaching others how to build a yurt.
In his 2004 book, “A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity,” he wrote, “I want to live in a society where people are intoxicated with the joy of making things.”
A native of Monticello, which is just north of Houlton, Coperthwaite spent most of his childhood in South Portland. He was educated at Bowdoin College, where he studied art history, the Putney Graduate School of Teacher Education in Vermont, and earned a doctorate in education from Harvard.
He lived and worked at various times in Mexico, Venezuela, Scandinavia and throughout the U.S.
He was influenced by nonviolence advocate Richard Bartlett Gregg, the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, the homesteading of Scott and Helen Nearing, and the writings of Henry David Thoreau.
In 1962, Coperthwaite was inspired when he read a National Geographic article about traditional Mongolian yurts. He found it had a rich potential for creative design yet provided people with a simple, inexpensive dwelling they could build themselves.
“He was a people person” who nevertheless also enjoyed solitude, said Holmes. “That seemed to be the kind of person he was.”