2014 Archives

SMU law grad learns from, leans on her mother’s legacy

December 22, 2014

DALLAS (SMU) — In the past few months, Cathryn “CC” Copeland Wood has experienced three shining moments: Getting married, earning a law degree and landing a position with a prestigious Dallas legal firm.

But one accomplishment is even more special to her: Pulling off a wedding two weeks ahead of schedule in the unlikeliest of settings: MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. CC’s mission? Ensuring that her mother, who was fighting breast cancer, could be at her side for the wedding.

CC, a native of Midland, originally had planned to marry in Scottsdale, Arizona, Nov. 1. A month before the big day, however, Janet Copeland’s health wasn’t improving as the family had hoped. Not wanting to risk her mom being unable to travel to the wedding, CC took the wedding to her mom.

On Oct. 22, CC and her husband, Conner Wood, found themselves surrounded by 75 invited guests — and dozens of supportive strangers — in an MD Anderson garden. Holding a wedding in such a clinical setting was admittedly surreal, she says, but there was “such warmth shared by MD Anderson’s patients.” Many of them, in wheelchairs or accompanied by IV carts, gathered in the hallway to cheer CC in her bridal gown as she made her way from her mother’s room to the outdoor ceremony.

Within days of the wedding, Janet returned to Midland, where she died Nov. 6. In her obituary, CC referred to her mom as a “pearl formed by adversity.”

The days leading up to the wedding CC could enjoy with her mother were truly precious, she says. “We reflected on the goodness we could cling to during tough times.”

CC says she is fortunate that she and her mother had become very close within the last year of Janet’s life. During that time CC received good counsel about the future from an attorney — her mother. “She was a very good prosecutor,” she says of Janet, a Gainesville native who had lived in Midland for 30 years. The year CC was born she left the legal profession to focus on her growing family.

“Part of going to law school was about making my parents proud of me, but not from a professional perspective – more of a personal one,” CC says. “My mom really had a servant’s heart. And she instilled in me to do good work for others, not for my own gain.”

On the day of her wedding, “I was so happy to be getting married, of course, but even more that my mom could be a party of the joy and happiness she so wanted for me.”

Tears fill her eyes as she recites a limerick her mother wrote in honor of the occasion:

My precious, free-spirited daughter
We’ve come through some turbulent water
What a joy to behold
As you yield to the mold
Of the image designed by the Potter.

“There could never be a more special wedding gift than that,” CC says.

Dropping everything in life to make the wedding happen unfortunately came during the hectic lead-up to her law finals. CC says she would have had a much harder time completing her studies without the support of her Dedman School of Law professors.

“Professor [Jeffrey] Kahn sent periodic emails that showed such sensitivity and caring,” CC says. “He helped me keep focused on what my options were, while at the same time encouraging me to take the time I needed to get everything done.”

She also credits professors Cheryl Nelson Butler, “who showed caring and flexibility for a final paper” and Peter Vogel and Greg Crespi “for being good listeners and offering great advice.”

Another teacher, Judge Harlin D. Hale (bankruptcy judge for the Northern District of Texas) “even called me on my cellphone while I was in Houston to express empathy,” CC says. “Dean [Jennifer] Collins has also been helpful and caring.”

CC knows it won’t be easy to move through life without her mother. “I’m heartbroken, but I also have an over-riding sense of peace and joy,” she says. “I’ll always feel a connection with her; I’m sure of that. But Mom helped me understand that things work out for a reason, and that I need to put my life in God’s hands.”

CC will work as an employment and labor attorney with Littler Mendelson. She and her husband, Conner, a petroleum engineer, will make their home in Dallas.