Richard Hopkins, lost at sea

By Barbara F. Dyer | Jan 13, 2013

The headline of The Camden Herald on April 1, 1971, saddened the town of Camden, when it read: “Captain Richards Hopkins Lost at Sea.”

Richard was a handsome young man, who had been born in Camden on May 29, 1929, the son of Robert and Mae Currie Hopkins. He also had a sister, Winifred (Meservey). His father Robert owned Megunticook Market in Millville and that family goes back 250 years in Maine. In fact, Richard’s fourth great-grandfather Hopkins was in the Revolutionary War. Richard was a life-long resident of Camden and spent many of his early years hunting and fishing with his father and uncle. During those Depression years, life was simple but fun, exploring the outdoors.

Richard graduated from Camden High School in the class of 1947. Then he went on to Maine Maritime Academy in Castine and graduated in the class of 1950. He was awarded his Bachelor of Science degree and held the rank of ensign in the United States Naval Reserve.

He married Alvira Arico, daughter of Antonio and Paolo Arico. She was working at Camden National Bank as a teller and there they met. They had two children, Richard B. Hopkins Jr., born in 1956, and Paula born in 1961.

Captain Hopkins was a veteran of nearly 22 years with the Texaco Company. His former Academy roommate and friend, Capt. Gilbert Hall, also of Camden, said his friend had planned to retire in two years. At the Boston office he was referred to as “Hoppy,” and one of the most liked men in the company.

It was his initial command of the 661-foot tanker Oklahoma and he had written his wife only a few weeks earlier describing the new command and his feelings in looking forward to it. Capt. Richard Hopkins was reported “lost at sea” when the tanker broke up off Cape Hattaras, N.C., en route from Port Arthur, Texas, to Boston where she was due the next morning. Forty-four crewmen were involved in the disaster. The date was Saturday, March 27, 1971.

The devastating call was received by his wife and family at their Chestnut Street home the following evening. The Texaco Company officials, who were owners of the tanker, said it had broken up in gale winds and heavy seas about 120 miles northeast of Cape Hattaras. Eleven known survivors had been picked up by a passing vessel the Liberian tanker, Sasstown, that spotted the red lifeboat afloat in the open sea. Captain Hopkins unfortunately was not among the survivors.

Capt. Richard Hopkins, 41, was one of the most popular and highest regarded veterans of the Texaco fleet, and had assumed command of the Oklahoma only two weeks to the day of her sinking. Contracted from Wilton Shipping Company in Delaware in 1958, the 661-foot tanker had a 90-foot beam with 34-foot draft. She weighed about 20,000 gross tons and was powered by a 15,000 horsepower plant. She was fully loaded at the time of the disaster in which 18 other crewmen were reported missing, two more had been found Monday, but their condition was not reported immediately. According to a United States Coast Guard spokesman, it was estimated that a man could not survive more than five hours in the 49 degree water at the scene.

There were no warning signals, nor distress signals received from the vessel and it appeared the event was extremely sudden. Both the Coast Guard and the oil company began an extensive search immediately and continued on with hope. The large oil slick resulting from the tragedy was reported as “harmless” by the company.

Captain Hopkins had been expected home in about six weeks. Because he was at sea much of the time, he was not a member of local clubs and organizations, but planning on being good citizen when he retired from his profession.

His death was a great loss to his wife, Vera, their two school-age children, Richard and Paula, his mother Mrs. Robert Hopkins, his sister Winifred Meservey, relatives, friends, classmates and the whole community of Camden.

A model of the Red Jacket, one of the most famous Clipper Ships that broke all sailing records and was built in Rockland, was given to Camden Public Library in Captain Hopkins' memory. It was placed in the Reading Room.

Memorial services were held at Our Lady of Good Hope Catholic Church on Wednesday, April 7, 1971, at 2 p.m., with Rev. Arthur St.Pierre officiating. Camden mourned the loss a wonderful young man.

Barbara Dyer is the official town historian of Camden.

Comments (2)
Posted by: gilbert harper | Jan 15, 2013 18:54

Dear Vera, Paula, and Richard,

i was once a young Master away at sea, with wife and two young children at home in Maine, like my grandfather and many before us.

I know of  your husbands and fathers great love for you........i know of his painful absence of wife and child.....I know of your fathers dedication to you and the ship's crew that relied on his skill.

i hope and pray that you live with his strength, courage, and dedication to those who relied upon him. I know nothing of what will be, I do know that he is there for you.

Captain Gil Harper

Posted by: Richard W Burbank | Jan 13, 2013 11:07

Wow, A sad and important story.  Thanks for sharing it.  So sad that he died so young at age 41.  That is my age, 41, and I was born two days after he was lost at sea.  A strange coincidence.

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