Richard Copeland, founder of Thor Construction, dies at 66

Copeland was known for championing efforts to increase equity in Minnesota’s construction industry

Ravi Norman and Richard Copeland stand for a portrait.
Thor Construction CEO Ravi Norman, left, stands next to Founder and Chairman Richard Copeland in front of the company's future headquarters in North Minneapolis on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Richard Copeland, who founded a company that would become one of the largest Black-owned businesses in the nation, passed away March 20, according to his family.

The 66-year-old founder of Thor Construction shared his journey in his final months after being diagnosed with stage 4 terminal cancer in June.  

Copeland leaves behind his wife Cassie, seven children and grandchildren.

In an online post, Cassie Copeland shared the news of her husband’s passing, “He was very successful at making change and lived a life to broadcast the inequalities in business and step right in with a solution to help make change for those affected. He was a champion for people's rights, especially for minority contractors.” 

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Copeland told MPR News in 2017 that he started his construction company in 1980 with a single truck. He was a 25-year-old newly-wed with a baby on the way. 

"I didn't know what I was going to do," Copeland recalled. "All I had was a pickup truck, a shovel and a hammer. I would just drive around all day, hoping to find yard work."

His north Minneapolis neighbors dubbed him "Sanford and Son," a barbed reference to the 1970s TV comedy about an irascible junkyard owner and his hapless son, who also drove an old pickup. 

Race was a factor from the beginning, Copeland said in 2017. Copeland said he was reminded of that early on when a white competitor scrawled "Thor" on Copeland's pickup truck. The hammer-wielding god from Norse Mythology was fitting for a construction company, so Copeland kept it.

After its founding in 1980, Copeland’s company grew over the years to amass some 200 employees, $375 million in revenue and projects all over the country, making it one of the nation's largest black-owned businesses.

Thor Construction closed its doors in 2019 after experiencing financial difficulties and after being sued by lenders for unpaid debts. 

Copeland’s wife Cassie wrote about how the legacy of her husband’s hard work carries on in efforts to change the mindset around the capabilities and capacity of minority contractors. 

“He paved paths that no one but he could – and we only hope those paths get so worn down so that a plentitude of new paths will emerge to make way for the hoards of newcomers following in his footsteps.”

Copeland, known for championing efforts to increase equity in Minnesota’s construction industry and beyond, was also honored by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey with a proclamation that declared August 28, 2021, Richard Copeland Day in Minneapolis.

Visitation will be held at Progressive Baptist Church on Thursday March 31, 2022 at 11:30am followed by a service beginning at 12:00pm.