WASHINGTON–For Abigail Ross Hopper – or Abby, as she introduces herself – juggling a job as director of a government agency, three kids who play five sports combined, friendships, personal wellness and traveling is all in a day’s work.
“She keeps more balls in the air than any person I’ve ever met,” said Hopper’s friend and former co-worker, Judge Doug Nazarian of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. “She’s that mom who lands late at night from somewhere and still has whatever her son or daughter needs for the next day completely nailed. I don’t know how she does it.”
Hopper said managing her balancing act – or lack thereof – is all about trying to be present.
“I gave up trying to balance it a couple of years ago,” Hopper said. “Every mom that I’m friends with, we all agree, there’s no such thing…I just try to be present where I am. When I’m at work, I’m at work. I always forget to call the pediatrician.”
But when she’s home, Hopper added, “I am good at putting the iPad and iPhone down.”
Hopper was named the director of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on Jan. 5 by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. Hopper left her position as the director of the Maryland Energy Administration to become the BOEM’s first woman director in its five-year history.
“Abigail Hopper’s knowledge of the energy sector, experience working with a wide variety of stakeholders and her legal expertise will be valuable assets to the Bureau and the Department as we continue to ensure the safe and responsible development of our domestic energy and mineral resources and stand up an offshore wind program,” Jewell said in announcing Hopper’s appointment.
As director, Hopper leads a staff of nearly 600 in developing offshore energy resources, both renewable and non-renewable. Hopper said she and her staff are working on the next five-year leasing plan, for offshore oil and gas drilling and wind farms. The plan will go into effect in 2017, Hopper said.
“[Energy is] the bedrock without which we couldn’t function,” Hopper said. “Could you imagine a world in which we didn’t have electricity or fuels for our cars? It has such an impact on our environment, our health, the air we breathe, the water we drink.”
Though she works in a serious position, Hopper’s personality is far from it. She is open and friendly with newcomers, and her style reflects it. She forgoes the typical D.C. political pantsuit, opting instead to pair professional garb with quirky earrings or interesting tights.
In the past, Hopper worked on projects that are similarly analytical as director of the Maryland Energy Administration, including a 60-day task force that examined Maryland’s electrical reliability system after the million-person power outage during the North American derecho in 2012, Nazarian said.
“She’s the only person I can think of who can do that all in 60 days,” Nazarian said. “That’s including [attending] multiple panel discussions and generating this report that I think was one of the best pieces of government analytical work and one of the best pieces of writing I’ve seen.”
In her current position, Hopper combines her passion for the environment with developing federal policies for managing it.
“As we learn more about the environment, as we learn more about the impact we have on the environment, I think we have to make some different choices,” Hopper said. “I am fascinated by it because it’s both incredibly important to our future and just because here and now it’s incredibly interesting.”
Hopper didn’t get her start in energy, though. In fact, her start was pretty far from it – she wanted to be a doctor.
Hopper, 43, grew up in College Park – her family lived close enough to the University of Maryland that they could walk to football games. She said attending a university in her hometown, though, was the last thing she wanted to do.
“It’s a joke in my family that I drew a 300-mile circle around College Park and wouldn’t apply within the circle,” Hopper said.
She ended up at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, studying to become a doctor until she took organic chemistry and realized she did not want to spend all of her time in a lab. After volunteering for the Women’s Information Network, a helpline for women facing domestic abuse and violence, she decided to get into law.
Hopper graduated cum laude from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. She began working at Hogan & Hartson (now called Hogan Lovells), a law firm in Washington, D.C., after meeting Nazarian, an associate at the firm, at a dog park in College Park.
This speaks to the friendly, open demeanor Hopper’s friends and co-workers say defines her personality.
“I think she’s such an open book,” said Hopper’s friend and former co-worker, Kelly Speakes-Backman, a member of the Maryland Public Service Commission. “At all levels she shows respect but she also has this congeniality that draws people to her.”
Speakes-Backman said once at a conference, Hopper gave out her cell phone number to the group of almost 200 people she was speaking to, in case they had any questions.
“That is so Abby,” Speakes-Backman said.
Speakes-Backman and Hopper worked at the PSC, where Hopper was a lawyer after working in both tax and family law.
The two met when Hopper asked Speakes-Backman to go for coffee a few weeks after Speakes-Backman started her job. They connected because they were struggling to balance their work with their growing families, Hopper said.
Nowadays they catch up on weekends over frozen yogurt while their kids run around in the park – Hopper’s cell phone and iPad tucked away in her bag – so she can be fully present in the moment.
Hopper had her first experiences with energy at the PSC but she still worked there as a lawyer. These days, Hopper said, she uses her experience with law to inform what she does at BOEM.
“I am a lawyer and I love being a lawyer even though I don’t act like a lawyer right now,” Hopper said.
While she was working at the PSC, then-Gov. Martin O’Malley selected Hopper to become the director of the Maryland Energy Administration.
“He has plucked me out of a regulatory agency and that opened my world up to energy at large, not just regulating utilities,” Hopper said. “I will always be grateful to him. Similarly, Secretary Jewell plucked me out of our state of Maryland.”
Hopper said her decision to switch jobs was easy.
“It really was dictated by my life circumstances,” Hopper said. “Each one of [my job changes] coincided with having babies.”
Hopper speaks with as much excitement about her children as she does with her job – which is to say a lot.
“My career has been defined by my children and trying to find balance, which I’ve failed at miserably, but we all do,” Hopper added.
Hopper has three children, two daughters, ages 10 and 12, and a son, age 7. She lives with her children and husband, Greg, also a lawyer, in Severna Park.
Hopper says one of the few negative aspects of her job is the commute. She leaves around 5:15 a.m. to beat notorious Beltway traffic,and often catches a hot yoga session in the District before coming to work.
Hopper leads from her corner office that overlooks the Washington Monument, something that often reinforces the inner peace she finds in yoga classes, she said.
“I look at the Washington Monument every morning,” Hopper said. “It just sort of grounds me.”
When Hopper can, she takes time off to travel with her family. She most recently visited Florida and was still sunburned from her trip during a recent interview.
“We take really good vacations – that’s part of a key to our familial happiness,” Hopper said.
Her favorite place to visit?
“I love the Eastern Shore,” Hopper said. “Every time I go over the bridge, I just come down onto Kent Island and I feel like the weight of the world is left behind.”