Doc Jopson's Legacy is Remembered
The death on March 9 of Harry G.M. "Doc" Jopson – the legendary Bridgewater College track coach and biology professor who was revered by generations of students – saddened the college at which he worked and generated an outpouring of sympathy and respect.
Jopson, who would have turned 101 on June 23, came to Bridgewater College in 1936 to head up its biology department. He also reinvigorated the college’s defunct track program and transformed it into a championship-winning juggernaut. Jopson also founded the cross country program.
By the time Jopson retired in 1981, his runners had chalked up two dozen undefeated track seasons and dozens of conference and state championships. Jopson himself was selected the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) Track Coach of the Year from 1978-1981, and at Bridgewater, the Jopson Athletic Complex is named in his honor.
As a teacher, Jopson was meticulous and always set high standards of achievement for his students, many of whom were inspired by him to pursue careers in medicine, dentistry and research.
"It's impossible to assign value to a man like 'Doc' Jopson, whose contributions, dedication and love for Bridgewater College were incalculable," said Bridgewater College President George Cornelius. "His zeal on the track was matched only by his zeal in the classroom, as thousands of his former students can verify, and the legacy he left them – and Bridgewater College – will live for many years to come. He will be greatly missed."
Phillip C. Stone, Bridgewater College president emeritus, noted that Jopson's passing represents an enormous symbolic event for the college.
"Imagine that when he came to BC, the college was not quite 50 years old," Stone said. "He personally knew some of the founders. His life covers more than half the span of the college’s existence. As long as he lived, there was obvious continuity with the past. He was a remarkable man. Bridgewater College never looked better than when he represented her."
Dr. Mike S. Hensley, a former Jopson student who is now the college's Harry G.M. Jopson Professor of Biology and head of the biology department, said Jopson was the reason he became a biology major.
"He would tell you when you did not do well, and he would tell you when you did do well," said Hensley. "It could be a real confidence booster. Everybody cared a lot for 'Doc.'"
Shane D. Stevens, Bridgewater's current track coach who took over two years after Jopson retired, noted that Jopson had the respect of athletes.
"Those guys – you could literally say 'run through this wall' and they would go do it just for him. I don't know how it's going to be with him not around. He's always been around. There's always been a 'Doc' Jopson."
Doug Coleman, a 1973 alumnus of Bridgewater, said that Jopson was a great inspiration for him.
"At an Athletic Hall of Fame gathering, I was able to remind 'Doc' that I got a double dose of him, being both a runner and a biology major," said Coleman, who is a biologist and executive director of the Wintergreen Nature Foundation in Roseland, Va. "His response: 'And amazingly you survived both."
The Jopson Endowed Track/Cross Country Fund was spearheaded by 1974 graduate Jeffrey Heppard of Moorestown, N.J., and 1978 graduate Craig Waters of Richmond, Va. – both former Jopson athletes.
“A book could be written about Doc and what he means to BC,” said Heppard, who came up with the idea for the fund. “He touched just about every student – and not just track athletes, but the bio students, pre-med students and students like me who took his intro to biology course. I wanted to do something to honor Doc and to help the track and cross country program that will forever benefit from his influence.”
Waters, who helped Heppard turn the idea for the fund into a reality, said Jopson epitomized the true definition of a teacher, coach and mentor by getting the best out of individuals regardless of their skills.
“He touched many people in different ways with his patience, concern and passion for his students and athletes,” Waters said.
To make a gift in memory of ‘Doc,’ give online or send contributions to:
Office of Institutional Advancement
402 E. College St., Box 33
Bridgewater, VA 22812