Charlie Hopper at the Western Avenue fire station when he was employed by the Augusta Fire Department. Photo courtesy of Ann Hopper

AUGUSTA — Charlie Hopper, a longtime Augusta firefighter and state Fire Marshal’s office employee died April 17 of COVID-19. He was 78.

Ann Hopper, Charlie’s wife, detailed the scene at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta before his death, calling it “really strange.”

Hospital spokesperson Joy McKenna said there are currently six patients with COVID-19 at MaineGeneral. The hospital has had three deaths and a total of 14 cases treated. Statewide, 44 people have died as a result of the coronavirus and 937 cases have been reported.

Ann and Charlie Hopper, in 1960. Photo courtesy of Ann Hopper

According to his obituary, Charlie Hopper was born in Spring Valley, New York, where he graduated from high school. He was married to Ann, whom he met in high school, in 1960. Five years later, he and Ann moved their family to Augusta. Hopper attended basic training for the Navy but returned home at his mother’s request because his father was ill.

He worked as a mechanic and a full-time firefighter in Augusta before moving to the Office of State Fire Marshal. After he retired from the fire marshal’s office, he started a woodworking business from his Hayden Lane home. He survived by Ann and two children, Edward and Terri, along with three grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Ann Hopper said she was with Charlie at the hospital when he passed away, clad in a mask, gown and gloves. She said Charlie was in the hospital in February for a lung infection, and upon his release, he was sent to Augusta Center for Health & Rehabilitation to “get him walking again.” It was there that he contracted the coronavirus, she said.

“Everybody was very nice and very good,” she said of the staff at the rehabilitation center. “We could go in and visit him, and after a while that stopped. We would go by his window and talk to him through his window.”

On April 10, Charlie was sent to Maine General Medical Center as his symptoms worsened but showed some signs of improvement. Just three days before April 20, what would have been their 60th wedding anniversary, Charlie took a turn for the worse.

“I was very surprised when they called me that morning,” Ann Hopper said. “The day before he had been improving, and we were optimistic. She said I could come over if I wanted, which surprised me.”

Charlie and Ann Hopper. Photo courtesy of Ann Hopper

Ann Hopper said hospital staff did all they could to help her husband, trying different treatments and keep him comfortable through his time at the hospital. She said one nurse, who she only knew as “Megan,” stood out during her experience.

“She wasn’t assigned to him that day and she came into his room and stayed with me most of the time,” Ann Hopper said. “I told her I would never forget her.”

Nurse Megan McDonald, a Marine Corps veteran, joked that she fell for Charlie’s blue eyes and his trademark stubbornness of someone who was in the Navy. She said she tries to learn a little bit about every patient, and often spoke to Charlie about Ann and his five dogs, Maggie, a poodle; Crystal, a pomeranian; Wendy, a shih tzu; and Lily and Violet, both Yorkshire terriers.

“It’s hard to feel a connection with them when you’re wearing all of these barriers,” she said. “You know that they’re scared and you try to keep the humanity in your … care for them.”

On the day Charlie died, McDonald was not assigned to him for the day, but she was compelled to spend time with Ann due to the unexpected nature of Charlie’s downturn in health.

“I knew that in the condition he came into us, he was doing quite well and this was unexpected for (his family),” McDonald said. “There was absolutely no way that once (Ann) got into the building that she wasn’t going to be with him.”

Charlie Hopper, with his great-grandson, Gunner, in 2018. Photo courtesy of Ann Hopper

When asked what she made of the protestors at last week’s event near the State House, Ann Hopper called people eager to loosen restrictions and return to work “reckless.”

“It’s real and it is dangerous,” she said of the virus. “It does kill people and for them to say it’s not going to get them; I don’t understand that.

“I can understand they want to get back to their regular lives,” she added. “Sometimes I think people protest just to protest.”

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