Maxine R. Hopkins, a Baltimore entrepreneur who bought a passenger van three decades ago to transport schoolchildren and eventually expanded her company into a fleet of buses, cars and trucks, died Wednesday of complications from colon cancer. She was 78.
After spending her early adult years working in manufacturing jobs around Baltimore and raising her children, she founded M.R. Hopkins Transportation in 1976. Her first contract was for transporting developmentally disabled students to and from a city school, her daughter Wanda D. Valentine said yesterday.
"She wanted her independence. She wanted her own money," said Mrs. Valentine, who lives in Essex. "Back then, most husbands just wanted you to stay home and raise children. ... But she never missed a day of work, unless she was having a child. She was a really hard-working woman."
Born in Winston-Salem, N.C., Ms. Hopkins moved with her parents to Baltimore when she was 8 years old. She married Lawrence Weldon and had four children with him, including a son who died in a stabbing in Baltimore in 1966 when he was 18. The couple separated and she eventually married Aaron Hopkins.
While working on the assembly line at the General Motors plant on Broening Highway, Ms. Hopkins saved money and bought a 15-person passenger van, according to Barbara Moore, a close friend who also served as her financial consultant. Ms. Moore said Ms. Hopkins was deeply spiritual, and regularly hired employees she believed deserved a second chance.
"She was a very amazing person," Ms. Moore said. "She was no-nonsense ... Basically she was a strong woman, and it just came forth when you saw her. Some people you could see the strength in. She was one of those women."
Mrs. Valentine said that her mother worked hard to put food on their table and to keep them together. Before dinner, "we used to sit and read the Scriptures ... because she believed that families that prayed together, stayed together," she said.
When Ms. Hopkins started her business, she was driving the van herself, picking up and dropping off students at Armistead Gardens Elementary School on Erdman Avenue in East Baltimore. About two years later, she was able to buy two 24-passenger buses and one 66-person bus, said Mrs. Valentine.
Ms. Hopkins lived mostly on the east side of Baltimore with her family, and settled in Essex. But her company kept its offices and vehicles in West Baltimore, on Braddish Avenue.
By the time Ms. Hopkins retired two years ago as president and chief executive officer, she had diversified the company's operations. M.R. Hopkins now operates 22 school buses, a dump truck and 18 sedans and wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
She also started a home fuel delivery business, Mrs. Valentine said.
Even in retirement, Ms. Hopkins continued to visit her company's offices regularly. But her pace began to slow several months ago, and she complained of vertigo earlier this year. A medical checkup in March revealed cancer had spread from her colon and into her brain, Mrs. Valentine said.
With emergency surgery, Ms. Hopkins was able to live another 11/2 months.
"From the time she came out of surgery till the day she died," Mrs. Valentine said yesterday, "my family never left her side."
Services were held Saturday.
Other survivors include two sons, Martin Weldon Sr. and Rodney Weldon Sr.; three brothers, Charles McIntyre, Alexander McIntyre and Columbus McIntyre; one sister, Rosalee Perkins; seven grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.