East Brainerd resident Dr. Sherry Hoppe shares a message of finding peace in the midst of disaster through "A Matter of Conscience, Redemption of a Hometown Hero, Bobby Hoppe." She is also sharing that message through speaking engagements around town.
"The book is about my husband, Bobby, and his historic trial that took place in Chattanooga in 1988," Hoppe told Hixson Kiwanis members at their recent meeting. "It's an intriguing story. My husband killed a man in self-defense in 1957 between his junior and senior years at Auburn University."
As the story goes, the fatal shot took place July 20, 1957, as Auburn University football star Bobby Hoppe drove down a steep, winding road in North Chattanooga. A car with its headlights off followed behind him. He thought it was friends playing a prank, but as the driver pulled alongside and pointed a pistol at his head, Hoppe realized it was his sister's ex-boyfriend, a disreputable whiskey runner. A shot was fired, the car fell back and Hoppe fled for his life.
He suffered in silence for 31 years after killing the man in self-defense.
"I decided it was a story that needed to be told," said Hoppe.
She said her husband confessed to a minister that told him God would forgive him. However, that same minister betrayed his confidence in 1966 by contacting the Chattanooga Police and telling them about the confession.
"The minister was a trained psychologist and said every time he looked in the mirror he would see a man with his face blown off and a mother crying," said Hoppe.
She said the minister's statement was taped, but did not go any further until two cold case detectives began pushing the case in 1987. Her husband was indicted in 1988.
"Since the indictment came 31 years later, memories had faded, records were lost and some witnesses had died," said Hoppe. "The core of my book is the courtroom drama. My husband never went to jail. It was a hung jury and he never went to trial again."
Hoppe said she decided to write the book to dispel rumors and present all the facts. She said she wanted to convey in the book how conscience affects people in different ways: the minister, a lying witness on the stand, a lady who testified, shedding light on the trial, and Hoppe's husband.
"It really bothered him that he had killed a man," she said. "He had more peace of mind after the trial."
She was married to Bobby Hoppe for 37 years. She began writing the book two weeks before he died in April 2008.
Hoppe said her husband's former students and players reached out to her after reading the book to tell her inspiring stories about how he'd changed their lives. Hoppe was the first All-American football player to come out of Chattanooga. He played football at Central High School and on Auburn University's first national championship football team in 1957. He later coached at Chattanooga Valley High School and Calhoun High School and directed the fitness center at Pellissippi State.
Hoppe said one businessman told her how he'd planned to take his own life until coach Hoppe told him 'you'd be surprised what a man can live with.'
Dr. Sherry Hoppe was a Tennessee teacher and administrator for 30 years, working at Chattanooga State, Nashville State, Roan State and Austin Peay University. She will release her next book, "Sips of Sustenance," in May, detailing how to deal with the loss of a spouse. Her third book, "Faces of Grief," will be released in June.