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Robin Amper, steadying force behind drive to conserve LI pine barrens, dies at 72

The campaign she and her husband, Richard, spearheaded has preserved about 50,000 core acres of the pine barrens, which sit above the sole-source aquifer for drinking water on Long Island.

Robin Hopkins Amper was said to have been

Robin Hopkins Amper was said to have been a balance for her husband, a hard-charging environmental advocate. Photo Credit: Long Island Pine Barrens Society

Robin Hopkins Amper, a Lake Panamoka resident who was the steadying force in battles to protect the Long Island pine barrens and their environment, alongside her husband, died at home Friday.

She was 72 and died after a four-year battle with metastatic breast cancer.

"She was genuinely interested and cared about people. It wasn’t superficial, or a public stance," said her husband, Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. "She was an amazing person."

MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organizations, said Robin Amper had the ability to calm tense situations and balance her husband, known as a hard-charging environmental advocate.

"She was always pleasant, always professional," Johnston said. "She had a great rapport with every person who worked with the Pine Barrens Society ... Dick would give you the seed, but she would water it."

Richard Amper said, "It helped to have somebody nice on the team. I certainly wasn’t. She made a lot of friends for us, I’ll tell you that.”

Jennifer Garvey, a former Pine Barrens Society employee, said, "She was quietly behind the scenes. But she was a force, and she was the force that allowed him to execute on his vision ... They were a team and I think together their contributions to Long Island are immeasurable."

Born in Buffalo, Robin Hopkins graduated from the Buffalo Seminary private high school in 1965 and  from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, in 1967.

Richard Amper said he first met Robin in Missouri in 1966, and he persisted in courting her.

"It became a campaign of mine to convince her I should be someone to marry. And I did," Amper said Sunday. "It was probably the first campaign I ran."

In a 2000 Newsday profile of Richard Amper, Robin described his courtship of her as: "He just kind of came in and took over."

Robin Hopkins spent her early career after college at Robert P. Gersin Associates in Manhattan, a design firm, where she managed design and corporate identity projects for major U.S. and international corporations.

The couple had lived in Forest Hills and Melville, before moving to Lake Panamoka in 1972.

Katie Muether Brown, deputy director of the Riverhead-based Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said, "the society ran so smoothly because of her hard work throughout the years."

Robin was the administrative manager for several years, and "was really Dick’s right-hand woman throughout the pine barrens preservation initiative in the 1980s and 1990s," Brown said.

The campaign ended up preserving about 50,000 core acres of pine barrens, which sit above the sole-source aquifer for drinking water on Long Island.

Richard Amper said that in the late 1980s, when few people thought the pine barrens could be preserved from development, she believed in it.

"She genuinely believed it could be and would be. She could not have been more supportive," Richard Amper said, and she allowed their home to become a "war room" for strategy sessions for about five years.

During the campaign, the Pine Barrens Society attracted criticism.

"She was putting up with a lot of ugliness on the part of the business community. That was nasty stuff. She was annoyed at people who were being nasty or critical, but didn’t return it with anger. She just said, 'This is the price of the campaign, and we need to do it,'" Richard Amper said.

Kevin McDonald, policy director with The Nature Conservancy's Long Island chapter, said, "Robin was a delightfully stable, unflappable, pleasant person, even in circumstances where no rational person would be. She was always a calming force."

Besides her husband of 51 years, she is survived by her brother, Nick Hopkins, and his wife, Bonnie, 75, of Jackson Hole, Wyoming; her sister Jane Carey and husband, John, 61, of Jackson Hole; brother-in-law Tom Amper, 71, of Queens; sister-in-law Emily Murphy, 70; nine nieces and nephews and 14 grandnieces and grandnephews, and her beloved dachshund, Oscar.

A Mass of Christian Burial for Amper will be  celebrated at 10 a.m. on May 7 at St. John the Baptist Church in Wading River. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Long Island Pine Barrens Society for a scholarship fund being established in her name, or to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

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