A Minister to Ministers: Rev. Dr. Leon Hopper Jr. 1927-2016
The Reverend Dr. C. Leon Hopper Jr., retired Unitarian Universalist minister and longtime Pacific Northwest resident, died June 19, 2016, after living for many years with Parkinson’s disease. He was 89 years old.
Leon was born in Seattle on February 21, 1927 and graduated from Roosevelt High School and the University of Washington. While in college, Leon attended University Unitarian Church in Seattle. It was there that he met Dorothy, his future wife, and also when he was called to become a Unitarian minister. Leon and Dorothy married in 1951 and moved to Boston where Leon attended Harvard Divinity School.
During his thirty-nine years in active ministry, Leon served as parish minister at First Congregational Parish Unitarian in Petersham, Massachusetts; Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado; and at East Shore Unitarian Church in Bellevue, Washington. Between settlements he worked at the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in Boston, first as executive director for the newly formed Liberal Religious Youth and later as director for ministerial education.
Throughout his career, Leon was active in denominational affairs at both district and continental levels. For two years he was District Executive of the UUA’s Mountain Desert District. He served on the board of trustees of the American Unitarian Association, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) (president). Leon received the UUA Distinguished Service Award in 1998 and was the Berry Street Essayist in 2001, “The Art of Ministry: Being and Doing Revisited.”
Leon retired from parish ministry in 1992 and was honored by East Shore Unitarian Church as their Minister Emeritus. During retirement, Leon helped establish the UU Partner Church Council and served as their first president. He laid the foundation for this organization. Leon also chaired the UUA Ministerial Aid Funds Committee, served as president of the continental UUMA, chair of Meadville Lombard Theological School, and as UUA Ministerial Settlement Representative in the Pacific Northwest District. Leon’s years of creative service at all levels – parish, district, continental, international – enriched the Unitarian Universalist movement.
Long considered a minister to ministers, Leon was held in high esteem by his colleagues worldwide. Leon’s sincere collegiality, gentle honesty and infectious optimism sustained many colleagues through difficult times both in their ministries and personal lives. As one colleague noted in a recent letter, “You always rose above the gossip, politics and petty mean-spiritedness. Sometimes when I let a critical word slip, you taught me a better way with your silence.”
Leon was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2002. In 2003, he and Dorothy moved into Seattle’s Horizon House Retirement Community where tiered care would be available. Leon was active on Horizon House committees and councils until his move into supported living at the end of 2014.
Cards and letters of admiration arrived regularly after Leon was admitted to hospice care in March. He was truly surprised to learn of the far-reaching effect he had on people’s lives. In hearing letters of his profoundly positive impact, he would shake his head in amazement, saying, “I never imagined.”
In addition to Dorothy, his wife of 65 years, Leon is survived by daughter Sheridan Botts and her husband, Richard; daughter Rachel Tucker and her husband, Jim; son, Chuck Hopper, and his wife, Pidgie; and five grandchildren.
A memorial service will be scheduled at a future date. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry, Leon Hopper Scholarship Fund.