Some of the nation's best journalists have passed through this newsroom. They exposed corruption, wrote stories that changed public policy. They won big awards and moved on to papers like the New York Times.
Carolyn Hopkins nurtured many of them, held their egos in check and gave them a front-row model of loyalty and decency. She was like the newsroom mom. Those prone to colorful language checked it at the door rather than cuss in front of Carolyn, not that she hadn't heard it all before.
It's just that she warranted so much respect.
In the days before email, 9 out of 10 letters that came into the Pasco Times newsroom were addressed to Carolyn Hopkins. They filled boxes and covered her desk. She patiently organized information from clubs and every day accurately compiled a column we called "People & Parties.'' For 31 years, she took care of "my people,'' and they loved her for it.
She interviewed couples celebrating 50th wedding anniversaries and took their pictures. She judged and published essays from schoolchildren, compiled church news and occasionally wrote birth announcements and obituaries. She volunteered to walk for charities and painted homes for old people.
If Carolyn hadn't worked here, she would have been a perfect subject for a feature writer. She was a third-generation Floridian whose grandfather's mule business became one of the state's first Ford dealerships. She married Alan, a University of Florida frat boy she met on a blind date. They became journalists, raised three sons and lived 12 years aboard a 30-foot sailboat. She won trophies showing off her classic 1970 Datsun 2000.
Carolyn preferred being on the keyboard side of a story, but she did agree in 1992 to let me write about her 50th wedding anniversary — just like so many she had written herself. Her sons had arranged for a limousine to take them from their home in Bailey's Bluff to Dunedin. The lovebirds were showered with gifts and affection.
One year later, Alan died of cancer. When Carolyn returned to work, she came into my office and shut the door. She had survived colon cancer and a triple bypass years earlier, but for the first time she seemed to consider her mortality. She made me promise that I would write her obituary. I don't recall my exact response, but I know it was something like, "You'll probably outlive all of us.''
She immersed herself in work, gardening and her cars, including a BMW 2-seater convertible. In 2004, as she seemed to defy the aging process, she announced her retirement at age 82. "I always thought they'd have to drag me out of here on a stretcher,'' she said.
We had a retirement party and she headed out on the first of what would be dozens of exotic overseas adventures with son Michael and his wife, Pilar. She called once in awhile and even dropped by to show off the Smart Car that Michael bought her in 2009. She remained happy and mostly healthy until Thursday, when she visited a doctor's office near Michael's home in Coral Gables and fell, fracturing her left femur. She died from complications eight hours later. She was 90.
Michael called with the news on Monday and made plans to spread Carolyn's ashes in the Gulf of Mexico off Bailey's Bluff, the same point where she had let the wind take Alan's.
One of those hard-driving reporters I mentioned earlier called to express sadness at Carolyn's passing, but noted that her's was a "good death.'' She would agree.
More important, her's was a good life. I'm honored to fulfill the promise.