Sunderland widow picks up her husband’s degree 20 years after tragedy stole his big day

Rosalind Copeland pictured following the Sunderland University graduation ceremony at the Stadium of Light.
Rosalind Copeland pictured following the Sunderland University graduation ceremony at the Stadium of Light.
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A Sunderland woman has been able to collect her late husband’s degree after 20 years.

Rosalind Copeland, the widow of talented Sunderland artist Derek Copeland, said receiving a BA (Hons) Arts and Design from the University of Sunderland on his behalf was ‘a dream come true’.

Rosalind Copeland with members of her family pictured following the Sunderland University graduation ceremony at the Stadium of Light.

Rosalind Copeland with members of her family pictured following the Sunderland University graduation ceremony at the Stadium of Light.

Although Derek had always dreamed of being an artist he had to turn down a scholarship at 15 when his dad insisted he find work and became a plater at Doxford Shipyard.

But, years later Derek went back to college to study art and design, eventually progressing to the University of Sunderland.

He was three years into his BA (Hons) Arts and Design degree in 1997 when chronic bronchitis brought on a coughing fit, he blacked out and the resulting fall damaged his spine, leaving him paralyzed.

Although Derek defied his doctors and learned to walk again, he was never able to return to the university to graduate and sadly lost his battle with lung cancer in 2006, aged 69.

To me it’s a dream come true for my husband

Rosalind Copeland

In a fortunate turn of events, last year Rosalind met University of Sunderland academics Trish Winter and Dr Caroline Mitchell, who were working on an arts based project, Putting Southwick on the Map and told them what had happened with Derek.

Trish said: “When she showed us her late husband’s paintings, glasswork and steel pieces we were astounded by the breadth and vibrancy of the work.

“Derek’s paintings represented many of the things that were close to his heart such as his greenhouse and allotment and he also documented the demise of the Sunderland shipyards.”

Rosalind, accompanied by family members, was invited to attend the University of Sunderland’s summer academic awards to collect her husband’s degree on his behalf during an emotional day.

Derek Copeland's artwork.

Derek Copeland's artwork.

She said: “To me it’s a dream come true for my husband.

“He worked so hard to get his degree and then he had his accident. When they told me that I could come and receive his degree posthumously, I couldn’t believe it.

“I’m just so happy that he got what he worked so hard for. Caroline and Trish did marvelously to allow me to come and receive this for my husband.”

Derek Copeland's artwork.

Derek Copeland's artwork.