Thomas C. "T.C." Hopkins, 88, who delivered Bon Ton potato chips to Senate offices and elementary schools in the Washington area for 20 years, died of septic shock July 8 at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Mr. Hopkins began to peddle potato chips in the early 1950s after an executive of the Pennsylvania company spotted him behind the meat counter at an A&P market and thought he was a natural salesman. He tried the job and liked it, delivering snack food to restaurants, hotels, schools and corner stores all over Washington. He also carried condiments: pickles, mayonnaise, mustard and the like. But he was identified with the big truck with the picture of a lady in a bonnet on the side.
"All the neighborhood kids, they loved that potato chip man," said Katherine D. Hopkins, his wife of 59 years. His truck, parked on the street in front of the family's Falls Church home, was used as a reference by many in the neighborhood when directions were given, his family said.
His son remembered going with him to deliver chips to the House and Senate restaurants and then taking a special order down the Capitol halls to the congressional offices of Lyndon B. Johnson, Carl Albert or Gerald Ford.
"He didn't shun work," his wife said. "He could talk people into most anything. But he was so generous that he'd give you what you wanted. That's probably why he had to work those 10 extra years."
In the 1970s, either a broken foot or one too many attempted robberies convinced Mr. Hopkins that he should give up his route, after 20 years as an independent distributor. But his wife told him that he was too young to retire, so he got a job as a security guard, working for the Charles E. Smith Cos. at the first Skyline office tower in Falls Church. He was on the job in early 1973, looking out the window, when an 80-foot-wide section of one of the skyscrapers collapsed, killing 14 workmen and injuring 34 others.
Born near Rapidan, Va., he moved in 1936 to the Washington area, where he learned the trade of meat cutting and worked for a number of grocery stores. He was drafted into the Army in February 1941, prior to the United States' entry into World War II, and was in the military for the duration of the war, often saying that he served "every day of it." He went overseas in 1944 and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, witnessing the fall of the Remagen bridge. By his December 1945 discharge, he was a staff sergeant.
He returned to Washington, where he managed the meat departments of Safeway and A&P grocery stores before going into business as a manufacturer's salesman, distributor and representative.
A lifelong Baptist, he was a member of what is now United Baptist Church of Annandale. Multiple illnesses, including cancer and a broken spine, marred the last five years of his life, but his wife cared for him at their home of more than 50 years.
In addition to his wife, of Falls Chuch, survivors include two children, Thomas R. Hopkins of Falls Church and Susan H. Boyd of Nokesville; two sisters, Laura H. Hopkins of Orange, Va., and Beatrice H. Lanier of Herndon; a brother, Freddie M. Hopkins of Orange; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.