"At the time," he says, "working for the government didn't seem like a very prestigious activity."
Today, much of his spare time is dedicated to conducting regular assessments of human rights in Iran and reporting back to the International Law Commission and the United Nations General Assembly.
Copithorne will be honoured for his international and community service, and for his dedication to UBC and to UBC students, at the Great Trekker Award ceremony and reception in the Student Union Building Art Gallery Oct. 20.
After 30 years of diplomatic missions to Vietnam, Iran, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, to name a few, he has seen a lot of the world but has never forgotten his ties to Vancouver, or to UBC, where he is now a part-time professor of law.
Born in Vancouver, Copithorne remembers an active student life, where he chaired the World University Service Committee and ran unsuccessfully for an Alma Mater Society post.
As a diplomat, Copithorne watched the Chinese cultural revolution unfold from Beijing, where he helped open the Canadian embassy in 1972.
He also served as ambassador to Austria and assistant undersecretary for Asia Pacific -- the most senior person dedicated to Asia Pacific affairs.
Three years as Canadian commissioner in Hong Kong capped off his career and Copithorne and his wife returned to settle inVancouver.
"I always knew I'd end up back in Vancouver," he says.
Upon his return Copithorne taught constitutional law and the commercial law of Pacific Rim countries for two years as the Douglas McKay Brown Visiting Professor of Law at UBC.
The Great Trekker award is given annually by the students of UBC to a UBC graduate who has attained eminence in his or her field. Past winners include community activist Jim Green and author and broadcaster Pierre Berton.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Great Trek. On Oct. 28, 1922, a student population of 1,200 marched from the university's temporary Fairview site to an unfinished Point Grey campus.
Their efforts helped convince the government to complete work which had been idle for 15 years.
For information on the Great Trekker Award Ceremony, and for tickets, call the AMS at 604-822-2050.