Time to Move On After 40 Years, Melwood Chief Says

Monday, September 4, 2006

Earl Copus Jr. announced that he will retire after more than 40 years as chief executive of Melwood, a nonprofit that provides job training, employment and independent living assistance to people with developmental disabilities.

Melwood, based in Upper Marlboro, has grown from a tiny operation to one serving 1,900 people in the Washington area today.

More than 40 years "is probably enough time for one person," Copus said in a telephone interview from Brazil, which he was visiting last week with his wife. "All good things come to an end."

He said he and the board discussed that he should probably leave when "the big seven-oh rolls around." He'll turn 70 in 2008 but plans to retire next year.

Copus came to Melwood in 1966, three years after it was founded. He had recently returned from a stint in Brazil with the Peace Corps and was working in its headquarters. He saw an advertisement for assistant director of Melwood and called. He learned that the organization didn't have any staff. "Let me be the director, and I'll build up the organization," he told the group.

He turned to what he calls "social entrepreneurship," with the organization collecting income from the services it provides so it wouldn't have to rely solely on the government for money. The group flourished from the income it made and donations from the community, including the old cars it sought in its familiar radio commercials.

Melwood's board is searching now for a new chief executive, but Copus doesn't expect to leave until next year. He plans to "catch up on the family life" when he retires, do a little consulting and a little more golf and fishing.

But, he said, the people at Melwood "have become such a great part of our lives. So no matter what, I'll keep our friendship going," he said. "Our folks can do so much. They just need an opportunity."

Spoken like a 40-year CEO.

-- Amy Joyce

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