by Jason W. Trujillo ’01 | May 13, 2013

This story was originally published on the UVa School of Law’s website. Click here to view this story and additional photos.

Dean Steve Hopson '66
Dean Steve Hopson ’66

At commencement on May 19, my good friend and colleague Steve Hopson will once again, as he has done for more than a generation of law students, call the names of graduates as they cross the stage to collect their diplomas. But the conclusion of this year’s ceremonies also marks the end of Steve’s 34-year career leading the Law School’s career services efforts.

“I’m not sure what’s next, other than a trip or two abroad. Betty and I love Europe and now we will have the time to return,” he said. Betty is Steve’s wife of 33 years, with whom he eloped to Key West in 1980, a year after starting his job as the Law School’s director of placement.

In 2009, in contemplation of his retirement a few years hence, Steve stepped down from running the day-to-day operations of Career Services and handed the reins to Kevin Donovan. Steve assumed the role of senior career counselor and assistant dean of Career Services.

“I am so pleased with the way the office is running now. Kevin has brought so much energy and enthusiasm and great ideas to the office,” Steve said. “It’s in absolutely wonderful hands.”

Steve was born into an old Virginia family. His Richmond, Va., roots trace back to 1802, when some of his family’s ancestors arrived from Scotland. Steve’s mother was in the first graduating class of Thomas Jefferson High School in the Richmond public school system. Steve followed in her footsteps some 30 years later, graduating as student body president of the then 2,000-member high school.

In his free time, he played piano in a band — the Squires — and one of their gigs in their senior year was christening the new Alpha Epsilon Pi party room at the University of Virginia. The fraternity must have impressed Steve, because he ended up enrolling at the University the next year, having turned down an offer to attend Yale.

Steve’s life at UVA was marked with success. He was an Echols Scholar, editor-in-chief of The Cavalier Daily, and lived in 26 East Lawn, later made famous by subsequent resident Katie Couric. He graduated and enrolled in the Law School a few months later, joining the Class of 1969, alongside classmates Richard Bonnie, now a UVA Law professor, and Martha Ballenger, now assistant dean for student affairs. Steve was president of the Raven Society as a first-year, and lived for a time at 21 West Range on the Lawn. He also served as chair of the University Judiciary Committee.

While Steve was in law school, the war in Vietnam intensified. Upon graduation he joined the Army JAG Corps at age 25 and made a four-year commitment to serve. After going to “salute school” at Fort Lee in Virginia and spending some time at Fort Dix, N.J., Steve arrived in Vietnam on Dec. 31, 1970.”I went to the Officer’s Club just before 10 p.m. expecting a party. Instead I found out they were closing at 10 and the band was playing the Animals song ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place.’ I thought to myself, ‘I just got here. I have a year to go!'”

Steve’s superiors wanted to make him a prosecutor, “but they quickly found out my temperament was more suited to being a defense counsel.”

He defended soldiers accused of drug possession, petit larcenies and failing to obey orders. Heroin was unfortunately “everywhere,” giving him a heavy caseload.

The prosecutor in most of his cases was Sim Lake (now a U.S. district judge who presided over the trials of Enron Chairman Key Lay and former Chief Executive Officer Jeff Skilling). Sim was his adversary by day but his “hoochmate” (the person he shared a tent with) by night, and they became close friends.

Steve soon became a “two-digit midget,” having fewer than 100 days left to serve in Vietnam. He’d look up at the planes taking service members back to the states — “Freedom Birds” — and knew his would arrive soon. When asked his preference of assignment upon returning to the States, he replied without hesitation, “The JAG School at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.” The request was granted and Steve served out the rest of his Army time back home in Virginia.

Another of Steve’s Vietnam hoochmates, Harry Boertzel, wrote him a letter in late 1973 suggesting Steve join him as a legislative counsel in Guam. The legislature of Guam was in session all year and Steve and Harry attended each session, gave advice on parliamentary issues, wrote amendments and served as counsel to the committee hearing. While the locale was exotic, it beat sharing a hooch in war time, Steve said.

The governor of Guam asked Steve to be his special legal assistant. After two years in Guam, Steve was encouraged to take a job at Hunton &Williams by two friends at the firm from the class of 1967, former University Rector Gordon Rainey and former Virginia Bar Association Executive Director Guy Tower. “I had a wonderful time at Hunton and will be forever grateful to Gordon and Guy,” Steve said.

After four years, Steve was drawn back to the Law School when he had the opportunity to join the administration as director of placement in 1979. At the time, Steve became the fifth administrator at the Law School, joining Associate Dean Al Turnbull ’62 (admissions and placement), Associate Dean Lane Kneedler ’69 (finance and administration), Director of Admissions Jerry Stokes and Director of Student Affairs Elizabeth Low. His duties also included reading admissions files, interviewing applicants for admission and working with those students who were interested in public service careers.

In 1986 he started running the Law School’s graduation ceremonies.

“I took particular pride in working to make sure I pronounced each graduate’s name absolutely correctly,” he said.

Steve has called the names at every graduation ceremony since then, except for 2009, when he relinquished the duty so he could see his own daughter graduate from the University. He also played a major role in developing the school’s first loan forgiveness program and, through his hiring of Assistant Dean Kimberly Emery ’91, paved the way for the Mortimer Caplin ’40 Public Service Center, an office that has grown to include several career counselors.

Steve has worked under six deans — Emerson Spies, Richard Merrill, Thomas Jackson, Robert Scott, John C. Jeffries Jr. ’73, and now Paul G. Mahoney.

“I’m honored to have worked for all of them,” he said.

Yared Getachew ’98, who also served as the Law School’s assistant dean for public service for several years, praised Steve as “one of the kindest people I know. Thousands of law students, including myself, have relied not just on his wise professional counsel, but also on his support and unfailing encouragement.”

Steve has spent thousands of hours counseling students and making connections between law firm employees, alumni and students to help graduates forge the career path they wanted, stressed Kevin Donovan.

“Dean Hopson has made an impact on so many lives during his time at the Law School,” he said. “Every year during on-Grounds interviews and reunions, alumni seek me out and tell me their stories of how Dean Hopson’s help made all the difference in their job searches. Steve is an inspiration to all of us. He cares deeply for the students. He works tirelessly without ever looking for credit. He is one of the unsung heroes of this place.”