The home of Maurice and Tama Copithorne is filled with an eclectic collection of artwork. A pair of framed 17th-century Japanese textiles – family heirlooms – hang next to a watercolour by BC’s Toni Onley. A hammered metal plaque from Malaysia rests near the front door, one of many handcrafted pieces bought from local artisans while they were living abroad.
The couple, who are part of our Leadership Circle, returned to Vancouver after Maurice retired from a 30-year career in the Canadian Foreign Service to teach International Law at UBC, his Alma Mater. Their postings included Malaysia, Iran, the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong and Vienna. From 1995-2002, Maurice was the UN rapporteur on human rights in Iran.
In his UN role, Maurice interviewed Iranian refugees in Vancouver, Canadian cities and other parts of the world. “The number of people who were usually in threat to their life who ended up here is quite substantial,” he says.
Maurice and Tama helped open one of the first foreign embassies in Beijing, where they were posted from 1972-74, during the tail end of the Cultural Revolution. While living there, they decided to send their two sons, ages 6 and 8 at the time, to a Chinese public school - a move that was considered highly unusual.
“One day two Americans said to me, ‘Aren’t you afraid they’ll become communists?’” says Maurice. “That really reveals a lot about what was going on at that time, with North Americans being something just short of frightened in actually dealing with the Chinese.”
As the wife of a foreign service officer, Tama was not officially allowed to work during their postings. But being a social anthropologist, living in different societies and cultures provided opportunities for learning that she put to use as founding director of Japanese Culture and Communication at SFU’s David Lam Centre for International Communication. In Vienna, the couple explored their passion for classical music, which Maurice and Tama continue to fuel through their involvement with the Vancouver Chamber Choir.
The couple loves watching Radio City and Masters on Knowledge. They also enjoy documentaries about different regions around the world, particularly places they’ve been to.
“A commercial-free public station emphasizing arts and culture is just a perfect fit for us,” says Tama. “All these things you get to see on Knowledge - not only us but people who have never been to these areas - it’s a wonderful exposure. I think it’s very good to bring the world into where we live, while not forgetting where we are... that is, looking at Vancouver within the context of the global picture.”