ELWOOD HOPKINS, JR. On Sunday afternoon, August 11, 2013, two months shy of his 97th birthday, Hop discarded the physical vehicle so his soul could rejoin Gert, his “girl friend” since childhood. He enjoyed countless memories and stood in the enviable position to witness nearly a century of world changes and technological advancements. Despite eschewing personal use of computers upon retirement from his computer work with General Electric (at age 71 and after 30 years with the company), he played a role in the development of the Space Age about which he was much too humble to speak, as was his way with all topics. Although he earned only a high school education, he possessed a relentless drive to master anything of interest to him. It was clear to the most casual observer that his drive came in the form of pleasing Gert, out of a sense of duty, both to his country as a Marine, and from a desire to provide for his family (thanks Dad for my college and med school education). Along the way, he also mastered the art of being the best darn neighbor anyone could hope for.
His inherent sense of ethics was not something he needed to learn in college,but was part of the rich fabric of his humanity. I will always remember his common reminder to avoid being judgmental and never to say anything if you could not say anything nice about a person. This sense of justice and doing the right thing, a sort of “civil disobedience” before it became a popular option for managing poor judgments by others, did have a consequence while he was on Iwo Jima during WWII. In a letter home to Gert, he shared his opinion about an order from a superior officer that directed fellow Marines to enter the killing zones to recover weapons and ammunition from fallen comrades. Dad thought this was not a good plan. During the War all letters were censored and when his opinion got back to his superiors, they reassigned him to“Graves Registry." Like many war veterans, he was never able to expunge the memory of that dreadful experience of trying to identify the parts of his fellow Marines and the indelible images of bodies “stacked like cord wood”.Although he never volunteered information about Iwo, he recently opened up about his time in The Corps. He said that once his tour on Iwo was over, he placed his uniforms on the water's edge and let the tides wash them away.
Nonetheless, he was proud to be a Marine and took great pride in flying the American flag and the Marine Corps flag daily, weather permitting. Every morning Gert would challenge him: "Were you a Marine?" He would snap to attention and reply, “I AM a Marine!" As Ronald Reagan once remarked,when Marines get to heaven they don’t have to explain how they justified their time on Earth.
Physically robust and healthy, never touching alcohol or tobacco or needing any prescription medications, he remained a competitive ice hockey player,challenging much younger men into his 70s and stopped only when his orthopedic surgeon said he was tired of patching him up. Golf was his other passion,achieving a hole-in-one while in his early 90s! His buddies nick - named him“Lucky Pierre."
A skillful craftsman, mostly with only hand tools, he fashioned bookcases,desks, tables, a hope chest, jewelry cabinet, quilt rack, and other functional pieces, many of which are now enjoyed by his grand children. Additionally, his doll houses are legendary, modeled after actual buildings in and around their beloved New York City.His last masterpiece, crafted when he was 91, replicated the house next door and was lovingly presented to the two little girls who lived there.
Always one to give back, he salvaged discarded golf clubs, bags and carts,restored and modified the clubs for children, and donated all of them to less fortunate Pennsylvania kids.
His other love, second only to Gert, was horses. Although Dad’s memory for recent places and events had faded, he never stopped talking about his pony,Poppy, and his horse, Jimmy Boy. As Gert was want to remind him often, she was the “real artist” in the family. Dad did some fine paintings, too, though,including a self portrait with Jimmy Boy in harness racing gear and sulky. We proudly hang his masterpiece in our home in Arizona.
We feel blessed to have had Dad at home with us for two and a half years. When it became obvious he needed more expert care, we found the perfect spot: an Assisted Living facility overlooking a pasture and corral, complete with horses, cattle, chickens, dogs and indigenous wildlife. Just a few weeks ago we took him down to the corral to pet the horses and watch young girls “polebending” while their dad practiced calf roping.
I was with Dad yesterday and, as I was leaving, was struck by seeing one of the horses who was out of the corral (not unusual), walking up from the lower part of the yard with a purposeful gait. He gave me a nod as he passed by, but did not change his stride and kept walking up toward the home where Dad lived. I noted the horse's brand on his right flank, and I think the letters were“BT." About 30 minutes after I got home, we got a call from Page springs living, saying that Dad had gotten up from the couch and walked over to the glass front door where he stood for a while, looking out, then sat in the chair by the door and was gone. That’s where he sat when we returned, appearing to simply be taking a nap. I think “BT” came to say good bye and to tell Dad that it was time to join Gert and Jimmy Boy.
Dad has left us with many fine examples of kindness, love and a peaceful and gentle way of how life should be lived. He leaves his son, Elwood III, his brother, Lester, cousin, Raymond Brady, daughters-in-law, Karen and Judy, two grandsons Benjamin and Samuel and their wives, Maggie and Kerry, his step-granddaughter, Julie Coucoules, and her husband Bobby, along with seven great-grand-children: Adam, Oliver, Brady, Maeve, Neva,Isabella, and Rocco. Countless friends and neighbors join us in honoring and celebrating his life.