John D. Rockefeller famously said, “A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship.” My friendship with Charles Kopman began with a business connection. It continued after our original business connection ended and led to starting a new business ten years later. This new business association, like our friendship, continued until Charles died on April 1, 2020.
I met Charles in the summer of 1976. Gerald Ford was President and The United States was celebrating its bicentennial. I was still in law school and was a summer associate in the law firm where Charles was a partner. I graduated from law school the following year and became a full-time lawyer at the firm. I did legal work with Charles for firm clients and got to know him better over lunch at eateries in Downtown St. Louis, such as Papa Fabarre’s, Jimbo’s Windows and O.T. Hodge’s Chile Parlor. I recall hiking with him in the Shaw Arboretum on New Year’s Day, 1978; going to a Mizzou football game with him in the Fall of 1979, and playing occasional games of tennis. He was a man with many interests that included: music, art, sports, the environment, and politics. Unlike a lot of people, Charles could have a political discussion in a way that was civil and unfailingly respectful of the other person’s views.
Charles was a loving and proud father and husband. It was during this time that I met his son Dan, a student at Clayton High School, where he was the placekicker on the football team. Charles told me with pride that Dan had made 100% of the extra points he had attempted in his career. Dan later explained that Clayton had scored exactly one touchdown during this time and his record for extra-point attempts was 1-0.
After Charles left to join another firm we saw each other occasionally, usually by accident. One such meeting was in the Fall of 1983 when I had just returned from a continuing legal education program at Oxford. I mentioned that I had learned more about English beer than about English law, and it was a shame no one was brewing beer like this in St. Louis. Charles told me I needed to talk to Dan, who by this time had graduated from Kenyon College and was working for Young’s Brewery in London. As most alert readers (ARs) now know, this reacquaintance with Dan led to the founding of Schlafly Beer. I incorporated the company in 1989 and we officially opened for business in December of 1991.
As some ARs may also recall, Dan took a hiatus from Schlafly in the mid-1990s and worked for the National Health Service in Scotland for a few years. Twenty years later he left again and became the CEO of Heavy Seas Brewery in Baltimore. Charles stayed in St. Louis and continued working for Schlafly without interruption. In 1995, when Dan was away and Ulrike and I officially became engaged, Charles and his wife Sally were the first people to invite us out to dinner to celebrate. The last time I saw Charles in person was on February 25th at a meeting of the committee overseeing the 401(k) plan for brewery employees. Two weeks later minutes of the meeting, conscientiously prepared by Charles, were in my inbox.
R. I. P.
Charles Edmund Kopman
March 18, 1936 – April 1, 2020
Ulrike and I were in Florida when Dan called me on Sunday, March 29th with bad news. Charles had tested positive for COVID-19 and was receiving palliative care. He died three days later, on Wednesday, April 1st while Ulrike and I were driving home. As with all other deaths during this pandemic, there are no current plans for a public memorial service.
I found myself thinking about St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, on the other side of town from Young’s Brewery, where Dan had worked. By total coincidence, I happened to be in London in April of 2013, when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s funeral was held at St. Paul’s. Lady Thatcher was but the latest in a long line of dignitaries to be honored there, beginning with Sir Christopher Wren, the architect who had designed the magnificent church. As many ARs probably know, Wren’s tomb inside St. Paul’s has the Latin epitaph: Si monumentum requiris, circumspice. (If you seek his monument, look around.)
Charles Kopman’s monument is not built from bricks and mortar. It’s greater. It consists of the tens of thousands of lives he enriched in his lifetime. It would be impossible to list all of the civic activities to which he devoted his time and treasure. As a lawyer, he was his clients’ business partner and in many instances their loyal friend as well. With Charles, there were many successful businesses founded on friendship and vice versa.
Chairman – The Saint Louis Brewery