One of St. Augustine’s first true pediatricians, Dr. George Hopkins is being remembered after his death this week as a man well-suited to a long career in health care.
Hopkins, a World War II veteran and popular physician in town, died at 97 on Monday.
“He was a remarkable guy,” said local businessman Doug Wiles, who was a patient of Hopkins’ as a child. “He had a way of making things better. You didn’t hardly mind getting a shot.”
Herbie Wiles, Doug’s father, remembers Hopkins as somebody he could trust, as evidenced by the fact that he let him treat his children.
“Practically everybody that had children back in those days, he was their pediatrician,” Herbie Wiles said.
As businessman and community activist, the elder Wiles also dealt with Hopkins as a fellow leader in the city. Hopkins was a member of the school board and various civic organizations.
“He was right in the community,” Herbie Wiles said. “As most people back in those days in St. Augustine (who were) doctors, lawyers, all were involved in schools, politics, city, that sort of thing. That was the way it was. You knew everybody.”
Hopkins, who established his practice in 1951, had his office right next to Flagler Hospital when it was downtown on Marine Street before the current building was constructed on U.S. 1 — and opened in 1989.
He was credited with establishing the first nursery at the hospital. According to his family, Hopkins was the only pediatrician in the area for 23 years of his career in St. Augustine.
Among Hopkins’ other accomplishments were: serving 20 years as physician for the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, acting as a pediatric consultant for the state for a decade and serving as health department director for both St. Johns and Flagler counties.
However, perhaps the biggest impression he made was when he moved from the St. Augustine bayfront to Vilano Beach. That’s because he took his house with him.
Both Len Weeks, whose father Claude was the administrator at the hospital during for much of Hopkins’ tenure, and former hospital CEO Jim Conzemius both remember the scene.
According to accounts, the Hopkins house was lifted up into a truck and then over the sea wall onto a barge. The house was then floated under the Bridge of Lions and across the bay to its new location on Vilano Beach, where it still stands.
“I was there watching it,” Len Weeks said. “And it was pretty interesting when that truck rolled off the property onto the barge. They had to do it at just the right tide so that the barge was at the right height and they could get in.
“That was a big event in my neighborhood.”
Hopkins and his wife Ann had four children, two of whom still live in North Florida.
Hopkins served during World War II as a Captain in the Army Medical Corps. He was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, where he met his wife of 52 years.