Alfred Archibald Hopkins, a colorful booster of Annapolis who used handshakes, goodwill and shoe leather to win a longtime seat on the city council and two terms as mayor, died yesterday at Anne Arundel Medical Center. He was 80, and had battled Alzheimer's disease for two years.
Never professing to be the smartest or sharpest guy in the room, Mr. Hopkins served 24 years on the Annapolis city council before pulling an upset victory over Mayor Dennis Callahan in the 1989 Democratic primary. He served as mayor until 1997.
Although Mr. Callahan was better financed, better spoken and better organized, Mr. Hopkins relied on the personal charm that earned him the nickname "affable Al" to win over constituents. As a former sportswriter and sports editor at The Capital newspaper, and as a coach and PTA president, he seemed to know every person on every street corner, and they knew him.
They also knew of his personal tragedies, losing two children because of aneurysms.
"Al was the universal grandfather of Annapolis," said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who served on the council during Mr. Hopkins' tenure as mayor. "If you've ever seen him in a parade, he was always there shaking hands. A natural with people and comforting, with a lot of personal tragedy, but from that experience he was able to reach out to others."
Mr. Hopkins told The Sun in 1997, on the eve of stepping down as mayor: "I'm not the greatest. I'm not super. I'm not the tops. I'm not No. 1. I'm just a nice guy."
Former Alderman Carl O. Snowden, now an aide to County Executive Janet S. Owens, said Mr. Hopkins "developed a built-in constituency that would support him no matter what."
As mayor, Mr. Hopkins helped advance redevelopment initiatives along West Street in the Historic District, but he was known more for helping the little guy, taking pride in providing constituent service. People who knew Mr. Hopkins as an alderman and mayor credited his ability to seek compromise.
"Before he made an enemy, he made a friend," said Samuel Gilmer, a former Annapolis alderman.
A third-generation Annapolitan and descendant of Johns Hopkins, he grew up during the Depression in Hell Point, a blue-collar community downtown that the Navy eventually acquired as part of the Naval Academy campus.
Mr. Hopkins had a dream of attending the Naval Academy, but always struggled academically. He took two years to complete first grade at Annapolis Elementary School.
"Always his dream to go to the Naval Academy. [He] didn't have the grades to go there," said a daughter, Barbara J. Hopkins of Annapolis, a captain with the city Police Department.
At Annapolis High School, Mr. Hopkins relied on neighborhood friend Ruben "Boo" Hyatt to help him with his homework. Mr. Hyatt's brother, Louis, remembered that Mr. Hopkins would regularly say in speeches: "Thank goodness for Boo Hyatt."
Mr. Hopkins graduated from high school at the age of 17, and after repeated rejections by the Naval Academy, he enlisted in the Navy during World War II. A radioman, he served three years, three months and three days on aircraft carriers in the Pacific.
After returning to Annapolis, he married Marion J. Mrlik in 1947 after a six-week courtship. The city was his other great love, and he would refer to Annapolis as his "mistress."
Mr. Hopkins was always interested in sports. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he covered Baltimore sports and the state legislature for United Press International. He worked at the Annapolis newspaper from 1969 to 1989.
He won a seat on the city council in 1961 and held it until 1965 and was elected again in 1969 and served until 1989. He was elected mayor in 1989 and stepped down because of term limits in 1997.
Mr. Hopkins was known for making off-the-cuff statements that would get him into trouble, such as when he said that racial quotas could lead to laws that require interracial marriage.
But residents admired Mr. Hopkins as one of their own, someone who had aspirations to serve the city and nothing more.
In the 1990s, Mr. Hopkins finally made it to the Naval Academy. He was named an honorary midshipman and spent a night in Bancroft Hall, the dormitory building.
Among his final words yesterday, according to his daughter Barbara, Mr. Hopkins encouraged his grandson Michael, 12, to attend the Naval Academy.
Surviving, in addition to his daughter and wife of 59 years, are another daughter, Kathleen Marie Hopkins of Annapolis; a son, Mark John Hopkins of Baltimore; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
Services are planned for 9:30 a.m. Monday at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church on Duke of Gloucester St. in Annapolis.
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