Ralph Kopperman

1942 - 2021 

Pearl River, NY

Ralph David Kopperman of Pearl River, NY, died on Saturday (February 6, 2021) of complications from COVID-19 less than two weeks short of his 79th birthday. He loved learning, teaching, travel, nature, exercising, and his family.

Born on February 17, 1942 in New York City, his love of travel originated during the five years (1949-1954) in his childhood when he lived with his parents Abraham and Elsie and younger brother Paul in Bogota, Colombia.

Ralph was a dedicated student and auto-didact in a way that reflected the man he was to become. After he and his mother and brother returned to Queens, NY, he attended Forest Hills High School, then earned an AB in mathematics from Columbia College in 1962, and a Ph.D. in mathematics from MIT three years later. He also earned an MA in psychology from City College in 1984.

After a short time teaching at the University of Rhode Island in the mid-1960s – where he met his first wife, Sandra Baldwin, and also founded the crew team that exists to this day – he joined the faculty at City College of New York, where he stayed until his retirement as math department chair in 2013.

Ralph liked to challenge himself, seeking ways to grow intellectually and personally. While he started in academia as a Logician, he changed disciplines to Topology in the late 1970s and became an important figure in that field. He pursued his MA in Psychology not for any professional need but to better himself and his relationships.

A dedicated father, Ralph opted to be the primary caretaker of his two children when he divorced, an unusual choice in the mid-1970s. In 1979, Ralph married for a second time to Constance Hodapp Picciano, and together they raised a blended family of five. He pushed his children to succeed academically while encouraging and supporting them in pursuing their own passions. This support extended outward to his students and peers. He remained a dedicated teacher even after his retirement, and an important mentor to younger mathematicians.

He co-authored over 75 academic papers and a graduate text book, Model Theory and its Applications. He mixed his love of travel into his work by serving as visiting faculty or lecturer throughout his career, including time in Venezuela in the 1970s, California in the ’80s, and England in the ’00s. He regularly traveled around the world to write papers with colleagues. He served on the editorial board of the journal Topology and its Applications from 1998 until his death, and founded the New York Seminar on General Topology and Topological Algebra and the Summer Conference Series on General Topology, both of which remain active today.
In addition to all of this, Ralph had a wide array of interests and self-taught skills. He loved the outdoors and camped across the US and Canada several times. He loved astronomy, bicycling, and movies. He fixed his own cars and learned and implemented an entire DIY-homeowner’s set of skills. When asked once if he was prouder of having lectured at Oxford or having single-handedly re-roofed his home, he declared it to be the latter.

Ralph is survived by his wife of 42 years Constance Picciano Kopperman and his five children Susan Picciano, Leah Kopperman and wife Valerie Lieber, Amy McIntyre and husband Mark McIntyre, Gail Picciano, and David Kopperman and wife Yesenia Kopperman, and by his grandson Sean McIntyre, and his brother Paul Edward Kopperman.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made online by selecting "Division of Science" in the designation menu and adding a comment "for the Math Department Discretionary Fund in memory of Prof. Ralph Kopperman" or by mail to the Math Department Discretionary Fund at the City College of New York, C/O The Foundation for City College, 160 Convent Avenue, Shephard Hall 154, New York, NY 10031.