Alumni Spotlight: Joe Hopkins, Class of 1963


After graduating from Marquette University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Joe Hopkins embarked upon a career that started with traditional reporting and editing but ended in public relations for the aviation industry.

photo credit: Joe Hopkins

After graduating from the College of Journalism in 1963, I worked for ten years as a newspaper reporter and editor in Waukegan, Gary, IN and Chicago. My big story in Waukegan (my hometown) was covering the wedding between Pat Nugent and Luci Baines Johnson in Washington, DC, in 1965.

Then I joined United Airlines in 1973 and became a spokesman and media relations manager, mainly in Chicago but two years in Cleveland. Highlights include public relations on the legislation deregulating the airline industry so that carriers could choose where to operate their flights and what to charge. They had been tightly regulated by the Civil Aeronautics Board up until then. Also important for United was its transformation from being largely a domestic carrier to an international one as well with the purchase first of Pan Am’s Pacific Division in 1986 giving access to routes linking the United States with Japan, the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Australia, Singapore, and New Zealand. Later United bought Pan Am’s London Heathrow hub, getting a foothold in the trans-Atlantic market. And finally, United bought routes to Central and South America. These developments along with inaugural flights and the delivery of new aircraft like the 767, 777 and Boeing 747–400 were positives. But as a spokesman one also had to deal with negatives like fatal accidents and labor disputes including prolonged strikes. Every day brought new challenges. I used to say it was like looking into a kaleidoscope. Maybe the same six or seven pieces of glass, but they always looked different. That helped keep me in the airline industry for 30 years until my retirement in 2003. My wife and I live today in Goodyear, AZ, a suburb west of Phoenix.

Every day brought new challenges. I used to say it was like looking into a kaleidoscope. Maybe the same six or seven pieces of glass, but they always looked different.

My education at Marquette emphasized (among other things) the importance of accuracy and getting both sides of a story. I remember turning in a news article in one class with an error in fact. That got me an F for that paper — a shock for someone used to A’s and B’s. I think my writing skills improved dramatically thanks to my professors. But I lagged as a reporter digging to get at the facts. I could handle a fire or a robbery or a human-interest story, but I was not trained in the fine points of municipal finance (i.e., the difference between a revenue bond and a general obligation bond). And I was at a loss at first trying to cover trials. I wish Marquette had made available experts in these areas among others to school young reporters before they entered the workforce. During the second semester of my junior year, I was sports editor of the Marquette Tribune. This was a lot of fun with the basketball team winning! During my senior year, I was president at Sigma Delta Chi and represented Marquette at a national convention in Tulsa. I got there by rail but flew home; that was my first flight in November of 1962!

If I could offer advice, I would tell students to soak up as much information and learning as possible as it will benefit you down the road. I was told you won’t get rich as a journalist. True then and probably today as well. But start early with a great savings program via the 401 (k) where you work. Put away as much as you can. You will be surprised how your nest egg will grow via compounding. Even youngsters with humble beginnings in journalism can enter retirement with an impressive brokerage account.

As for favorite memories on campus, I had great roommates particularly junior and senior years. There were five of us, and we worked as waiters at O’Donnell Hall. No pay but two free meals a day! College is not just about academics. It is also about developing your social skills that you will need after you leave Milwaukee. I am grateful for great experiences both in the classrooms and elsewhere during my college years at Marquette, and I would hope for something similar for today’s undergrads.