J. B. Hopkins
|J. B. Hopkins|
Hopkins (third from right) watches Governor LeRoy Collins sign the Junior College Bill of 1955
|Born||October 15, 1925|
|Died||November 9, 2002|
|Occupation||Attorney, state legislator|
|Spouse||Stella Grubbs Hopkins|
|Parents||Elbert Wesley and Idell Hopkins|
|Children||Delrene Lou Vassaur|
Holly Jean Odom
Julie Trey Hopkins
Theresa Hoyt Langham
J. B. Hopkins (1925-2002) was an attorney and state legislator who in 1955 coauthored legislature that would enable the creation of the University of West Florida. He also founded Scenic Hills Country Club and the Hadji Shrine Temple.
Hopkins was born on October 15, 1925, to Elbert Wesley and Idell Hopkins. His father ran Hoppy's Sundry Shop at 410 North Palafox Street, where Arkie Hopkins (Elbert's sister-in-law and J. B.'s aunt) worked before starting the Hopkins' House. J. B. attended Pensacola High School, where he played saxophone in the band, and graduated in 1943. He went to the University of Tennessee in 1941 as part of the Army Air Corps aviation cadets.
Hopkins met his future wife, Stella Grubbs, on a blind date encouraged by his mother. "Mama said this would be nice because this woman didn't drink and smoke. So I didn't want to meet her," Hopkins later joked. They were married on September 8, 1949.
Hopkins started his career as assistant county solicitor in 1951. He was a two-term legislator in the Florida House of Representatives (elected in 1954 and reelected in 1956) and a member of the "Pork Chop Gang" voting bloc of Panhandle legislators. He earned such a reputation as a "tiger," according to former Mayor Warren Briggs, that his political opponents would try to trick him into leaving the House floor during key votes by relaying fake messages.
In 1955, after efforts to make Pensacola Junior College a four-year institution had failed, Hopkins had drafted a bill that would initiate the creation of a four-year university in Escambia County, but another lawmaker who sat behind him saw the bill and submitted a similar one before him.
|His bill was ahead of mine, but it said, "Palm Beach." I went over and said, "You so and so, you know my bill was ahead of yours — you copied mine. … I want to put 'and Escambia County' on that bill," and he said OK.|
The bill was passed and, along with appropriations drafted by Hopkins, allowed the creation of the University of West Florida. During his time in office, the St. Petersburg Times recognized Hopkins has one of the state's top 10 lawmakers.
Upset by the Pensacola Country Club's policy at the time not to accept Jewish members, Hopkins founded the Scenic Hills Country Club on Nine Mile Road in 1958. It was the first area country club to be open to minorities.
At the end of his military and political careers, he and his brother E. W. Hopkins, Jr. enrolled at the University of Florida, where they were in the same fraternity. J. B. graduated in 1961 and earned his juris doctorate from the school in 1967 — the same year UWF opened its doors. He returned to Pensacola, entering private practice and helping to found the Hadji Shrine Temple. He served as the group's first potentate, in 1967 and 1968.
Hopkins was heavily involved in the community and served with over 65 non-profit organizations, including the Escambia County Mental Health Association, the Pensacola Historical Society and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
In July 2002, Hopkins had an operation to remove a brain tumor, but was told by his doctors that he had less than a year to live. He passed along cards to his fellow parishioners at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church that read, "What I have is bad. It is malignant, inoperable and terminal. … I am OK with all this and I do not want you to be sad, either. I want to die as I have lived — with all the dignity, independence, faith and laughter I can muster."
He passed away on November 9 of that year.
- "Hopkins leaves a legacy that will endure forever." Pensacola News Journal, November 13, 2002.
- 50-year members of The Florida Bar, 1951-2001
- "Longtime leader Hopkins revels in passion for life despite illness." Pensacola News Journal, August 17, 2002.
- "Shriners celebrate 80th anniversary." Pensacola News Journal, April 25, 2002.