TALLAHASSEE — To environmentalists, he was Darth Vader, the black hat who lobbied for the bad guys: on the side of nuclear power plants, land developers, phosphate mining, even on the side of boat manufacturers against manatees.
The manatee flap got him hate mail from schoolchildren — schoolchildren! — complete with their hand drawings of the cuddly sea cows.
And yet those who squared off against Wade L. Hopping had only respect for the "gentleman's gentleman."
Even-tempered, gracious, a man of his word.
When he fought to get manatees removed from the endangered species list, Save the Manatee supporters demonstrated outside his office, complete with body bags representing manatees killed by boat propellers. Mr. Hopping came outside to offer them refreshments.
For almost 30 years, he was deeply involved in every environmental cause in Florida, almost always on the side of land developers, sugar growers, ranchers and the like.
His unseen hand was behind legislation from the Florida Forever Act to the Growth Management Act and the Environmental Land and Water Management Act. He helped Florida Power & Light get nuclear power plants licensed at St. Lucie and Turkey Point.
He sometimes said government was "like kudzu," in need of trimming every year. He thought polluters could be trusted to police themselves. Without exception, his foes mourned his passing Tuesday.
"Wade and I jousted for over 35 years, usually on opposite sides of issues," said Audubon lobbyist Charles Lee. "Through it all I found him to be one of the most delightful people to work around I have ever encountered."
Said environmentalist Nat Reed: "He leaves a legacy of great friends, even though some us fought his clients tooth-and-nail."
Jacksonville lawyer Robert M. Rhodes tells the story of the time he and Mr. Hopping lobbied together against an environmental bill supported by some fervent young lobbyists. Mr. Hopping got a friendly legislator to introduce a series of bills that would have hurt their environmental clients.
The distracted opponents chased those bills down assorted "rabbit trails'' and lost sight of the bill that Hopping and Rhodes were working on. Said Rhodes: "It was talked about as a technique for years and called 'the Hopping Rabbit Trail.' "
Many deals get done in the bars on Adams Street after a day at the Capitol, but Mr. Hopping wasn't one to join the partying. Instead, at the end of every work day, he took a brisk walk, his neatly trimmed white beard and white hair a familiar sight around the state Capitol and on Thomasville Road.
He succeeded where many fail because he had encyclopedic knowledge of the state's environmental laws, many of which he helped write, and because of his ability to steer campaign cash from his clients to politicians.
He came to Tallahassee in 1967 as a top aide to then-Gov. Claude Kirk, who appointed him to the Florida Supreme Court a year later. He left the court in 1969, defeated in his bid for election.
He founded the law firm of Hopping Green & Sams 30 years ago, specializing in environmental and land-use law. Now with 52 lawyers, the firm is the largest in Florida specializing in governmental law.
Family and friends gathered Tuesday at Big Bend Hospice to say goodbye. Mr. Hopping died of complications from a stroke and esophageal cancer. He was 77.
On Tuesday, in honor of the former justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Gov. Charlie Crist ordered that all flags on state property be flown at half-staff.
Lucy Morgan can be reached at email@example.com.