J. Robert Hooper

[ Age 71 ] The Harford County businessman, elected three times to the state Senate, was `everybody's friend.'

Mr. Hooper, known to his legislative colleagues for his high-fives and good nature, had served in the Senate since 1999.

January 26, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun reporter

While waiting in a church pew to officiate at an Eagle Scout ceremony last month, then-Sen. J. Robert Hooper and his lifelong friend, Harford County Councilman James V. McMahan, broke into a soft song, the councilman recalled yesterday.

Mr. Hooper, in frail health, had announced his resignation from the state Senate as of Dec. 31 but earlier in the month was still representing Harford County's District 35 at official functions. Eagle Scout ceremonies were among his favorite events.

"I asked him his favorite hymn, and he said `Old Rugged Cross,'" Mr. McMahan said. "With that, we both started singing and got through the first verse, just two old friends singing together."

Mr. Hooper, a Harford County Republican legislator, businessman and community activist, died of cancer Thursday at his home in Street. He was 71.

"He was just a real down-to-earth guy, everybody's friend, everybody's neighbor," Mr. McMahan said.

Mr. Hooper, known to his legislative colleagues for his high-fives and good nature, had served in the Senate since 1999. During the Senate's morning session yesterday, Sen. David R. Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican and the minority leader, paid tribute.

"We are relieved that Senator Hooper is passed from his pain, and he is in a better place," Mr. Brinkley said. "He certainly loved his service to his community, he loved his service to the state and he certainly loved this body."

After the session, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the legislature was impressed by Mr. Hooper's determination to attend November's grueling special session.

Mr. Hooper had battled colon cancer for the past few years and suffered a mild heart attack a year ago. The special session convinced him that he could no longer meet the demands of the office.

"It would be unjust to the people of the 35th District to expect less than a 100 percent effort from their representative," he said at a news conference. "This I can no longer give."

Mr. Miller said, "He had a very tough disease, and it was very painful, but he insisted on being here the entire time. He would camp out on the couch in the back even though his nausea was just driving him crazy."

Mr. Hooper, a former Democrat who previously had served eight years on the County Council, changed parties before running for the Senate in 1998. He won his third term in 2006 and asked that Del. Barry Glassman be appointed to his seat.

"He touched people everywhere regardless of their stature," said Mr. Glassman, who was sworn in to the Senate this month. "He would talk with you and listen to you whether you were a state senator or cleaning offices."

Harford County Council President Billy Boniface said that Mr. Hooper "was really matter-of-fact and no-nonsense, a quality that is refreshing for a politician. He was as much at home in the Senate as he was ringing a bell for the Salvation Army at Harford Mall."

Vi Ripken, mother of Hall of Fame baseball player Cal Ripken Jr., recalled how Mr. Hooper and her husband played fiercely competitive soccer and became friends.

Mr. Hooper married Mrs. Ripken's cousin, Shirley Cullum, on Christmas Eve in 1957. The couple threw a 50th-anniversary party last month. "It was a remarkably joyous party to celebrate his life and all that he has done for friends and family," Mrs. Ripken said. "He was always a caring, giving, loving and principled man."

Born in Baltimore, Mr. Hooper grew up in Pylesville. In his senior year at Bel Air High, he drove a school bus, delivering elementary students to class before arriving for his own courses. Soccer, a lifelong passion, was the game he played long into adulthood. He helped establish Harford County's first youth soccer league.

Mr. Hooper founded Harford Sanitation Services Inc. in 1954, and the company grew from two employees to 120 with a fleet of more than 50 trucks.

He was a lifelong member of Fawn Grove Church of the Nazarene.

"He never faltered when it came to his faith," Mr. McMahan said. "It was the mantle he wore in politics, business and everyday life."

Mr. Glassman last visited with his mentor on Sunday.

"I think he was at peace," Mr. Glassman said. "His strong faith had taken over, and he knew that he had done his work."

Funeral services will be at noon Tuesday at the Bel Air Church of the Nazarene, 2430 Conowingo Road.

In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Bobby Hooper of Street and Scott Hooper of Delta, Pa.; two daughters, Cindy Hushon of Delta and Terrie Fraer of Abingdon; six grandchildren; and six step-grandchildren.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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