April 21, 2019
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PORTLAND – Mitchell Cope, 90, beloved husband of Thelma for 55 years, father of three children, and 10 grandchildren, died March 20, 2007, at his home, 66 Pya Road, Portland, from natural causes. Master homebuilder, former state representative, state senator and mayor of Portland, Mr. Cope will be remembered first and foremost as a loving husband, father and grandfather. Born and raised in Portland, as a first-generation American, Mr. Cope exemplified the American dream. What’s more, he made the American dream of homeownership possible for hundreds of families throughout Maine and beyond. Mr. Cope had a lifelong record of achievement, innovation and contribution to the housing industry, people of Maine and our nation. His cumulative impact in helping to achieve the American dream of affordable home ownership spans the post-World War II housing boom through to the current revitalization of rural America. Growing up with Orthodox Jewish parents from Ukraine, Mr. Cope could not foresee the enormous opportunities that would open up to him. A graduate of Portland High School, Mitchell would go on to serve his country in World War II. Inducted as a private, he was discharged as a first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1946. After leaving the Army, he wanted to build a business that would leave a lasting and positive mark on the community. He built his first house in 1947, and quickly formed a reputation with the design and construction of the dream house of 1948. He would transform the housing industry by showing others how to successfully integrate politics and public service as a fundamental and legitimate part of the housing industry. Mr. Cope always felt he should give to his community through public service. As a member of the Portland Board of Standards and Review, in 1956, he initiated a new committee that implemented enhanced zoning code changes. Mr. Cope was elected to Portland’s city council, where he applied his unique perspective and experience first as chairman of the Urban Renewal Committee in 1958, and then as chairman of the City Council and Mayor in 1960. In the 1960s, he was elected State Representative, State Senator and served on the Portland Planning Board. While a State Representative, he authored legislation to create the Maine Intergovernmental Relations Commission and became its first chairman. One immediate result of the legislation, was local home rule in Maine, in which the housing industry, particularly in Maine, benefited by the Commission’s identifying a variety of federal funding opportunities for basic infrastructure, which relieved homebuilders from the burden of such facilities, as well as, made housing more acceptable when federal funding became available. He strongly believed in land preservation, donating hundreds of acres of land to various land trusts and local governments. Capisic Pond Park in the city of Portland, is just one of his many legacies. Realizing that fair and consistent zoning could help builders provide homes for their communities, he challenged the town of Brunswick, which at that time had vague zoning guidelines that tended to inflate the cost of housing. His persuasiveness resulted in what is known as the Cope Decision, by the State of Maine Supreme Court in 1983, requiring clear and explicit standards for zoning board decisions. His record as the builder of the largest single-family home development in Maine still stands. For decades, he was the primary voice of home building in Maine and the largest single family homebuilder in Maine. Working with his son, David Cope, he subsequently diversified into multi-family rental apartments. His commitment to assuring quality affordable and workforce housing has taken him from the White House to the halls of Congress, from Maine to the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, out of devotion to his wife and children, he most often chose to stay local, telling those he loved, I’ll build as far away as I can comfortably be home for dinner. Nothing could pull him away from his cherished family. Ever faithful to his wife, Thelma, he lit up whenever she walked into the room, even to his last days. Theirs was a magical relationship. A man who loved his work, he continued building and serving as an advisor to development projects well into his 80s. In 2003, he developed Wellesley Estates, a 45-unit workforce apartment complex in Portland, with the help of his grandson, Adam Mack. His goal was to create something tangible, a legacy to outlive him and benefit others for generations, a place for stable communities and families to grow with secure, well-built homes. And that he did. Mr. Cope participated in a myriad of organizations, including as a trustee of Brunswick Memorial Hospital, Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue and as a life director of Temple Beth El. He earned the National Award of the American Legion for Outstanding Public Service in Governmental Affairs, became a National Representative of the National Committee for the Support of Public Schools and Life Director of Cedars Nursing Care Center. Mitchell Cope was a former national vice president of the National Association of Homebuilders, NAHB, is a member of the NAHB Hall of Fame and was the first inductee into the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Maine. He recently was involved in setting up the non profit, 501-c (3) Mitchell and Thelma Cope Foundation, to continue his legacy for affordable workforce housing, land preservation, and non profit office space. Because of his impressive achievements, Gov. Angus King declared Jan. 29, 1997, his 80th birthday, as Mitchell Cope Day. Aside from his family and work, his two main pleasures in life were playing poker with the same group of men for more than 20 years and golfing. An avid golfer, Mr. Cope frequently played at Riverside, his favorite golf course, sinking his first hole-in-one in the summer of 1986. Mitchell devoted many successful decades applying the political lessons he learned for the benefit of the home building industry, his community and those lucky enough to have known him. Much loved by many, the story of his life can be read as one long hole-in-one. He will be missed. Surviving him are his wife, Thelma Cope of Portland; his children, Pya Cope Chang and her husband, Chris, David Cope and Debra-Sue Cope; his sisters, Norma and Bella; brother, Arthur; and 10 grandchildren. Services were held 12:30 p.m. Friday, March 23, at Temple Beth El, 400 Deering Ave., Portland. A mourning period will be observed 7:45-9 p.m. Saturday and 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday at the Cope Home. Arrangements by The Jewish Funeral Home, Portland. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in his name to either The Mitchell and Thelma Cope Foundation, care of Kevin Glynn, 109 Huntress Ave., South Portland, ME 04106 or The Cedars, 630 Ocean Ave., Portland, ME 04103.

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