Beyond the ear-catching echo in her name, Nancy Popkin Popkin was memorable as much for her biography as for her work.
Only 2 when her father abandoned her family, she grew up sleeping on the sofa of a one-bedroom Allston apartment she shared with her mother and grandmother, and then became successful in three careers. An award-winning reporter and editor for The Jewish Advocate and The Daily Item in Lynn, she switched to public relations in midlife before changing course again in her 60s to join her husband in the financial planning field. Along the way, she raised two children, wrote the script and lyrics for a community theater musical, interviewed celebrities, and was a leader of women’s media organizations.
Then there was her name, which was as unforgettable as her life. Born Nancy Popkin, she met Philip Popkin early in their careers.
“When we were married,” she told the Globe in 1981, “the board that lists the day’s events at the hotel read Popkin-Popkin and my husband overheard one little old lady say to another little old lady: ‘I wonder what the story is.’ ”
Mrs. Popkin, who moved to California several years ago after the death of her husband, died of a stroke March 16 in the Hillcrest Royale retirement community in Thousand Oaks, Calif. She was 83 and formerly lived in Swampscott and Salem.
“My mom was a writer professionally,” her daughter, Deborah Popkin Schuster, of Agoura Hills, Calif., wrote in a blog posting last week. “My garage is full of boxes of newspaper clippings of her articles and interviews. There are other boxes of clippings of articles written about her and her accomplishments and awards. I stare at these boxes in awe of who she was, smart as a whip, articulate, compassionate, courageous, funny.”
Mrs. Popkin, her daughter added in an interview, “was the most positive, vivacious person I’ve ever known. She wasn’t someone who saw the glass as half-full. She saw the glass as full.”
She also saw the challenges women faced in her field. In 1975, Mrs. Popkin won a $1,000 prize in a national competition for an essay detailing how to end discrimination against women in communications. She also had served as an officer of the New England Women’s Press Association.
“Professionally, for me, she was an incredible role model,” her daughter said. “She just had the fullest life.”
Although Mrs. Popkin spent much of her adult life on the North Shore, she spent her childhood in Boston, the only child of Bess Popkin, a single mother and a violinist with the Boston Civic Symphony and the Brookline Symphony Orchestra.
In a household with limited finances, her mother made her clothes, but also introduced her to theater and music.
“I’m a Bostonian,” Mrs. Popkin told the Globe in 1981. “I grew up here. I went to school here, to Brighton High School and Boston University.”
After graduating, her first job was at The Jewish Advocate, where Phil Popkin worked in advertising.
“Everybody around us was hysterical about Popkin and Popkin, and so it was almost a fait accompli that we dated,” she said in the interview.
‘My daughter, Deborah, used to joke she was looking for a Popkin to marry so she would be Popkin Popkin Popkin.’
They married in 1950 and she went on to work for the Daily Item, writing a personality column and interviewing celebrities such as film director Otto Preminger, television talk show host Dick Cavett, and musician Tiny Tim.
“People just took to her, and so she was able to get some really interesting stories from them,” her daughter said. “You could tell that she was living a life she loved and was very satisfied. She was a great mother, too. She was very supportive and encouraging.”
While living in Swampscott, Mrs. Popkin wrote the lyrics and script for a 1969 children’s production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly. She also acted in community productions.
“I have a picture of her as one of the lost boys in ‘Peter Pan,’ ” her daughter said.
In her late 40s, Mrs. Popkin left newspapers for public relations. She worked for the New England Dairy & Food Council and website and hosted a cable television show on nutrition and later launched her own public relations firms with partners.
On memos designed to capture the attention of recipients, she listed her full name.
“I put Nancy Popkin Popkin on those memos because they’re informal and casual and it’s me,” she told the Globe in 1981. “But on my business card I’m Nancy Popkin.”
At one point, she added, “I thought of hyphenating my names. But as a former newspaperwoman, I know the value of the shorter name for headlines. But if I’m getting an award or something, I like them to mention both names.”
Doing so, she knew, created moments of confusion. When her mother and mother-in-law were alive, “you can imagine introducing the three Mrs. Popkins,” she said, adding that “my daughter, Deborah, used to joke she was looking for a Popkin to marry so she would be Popkin Popkin Popkin.”
As for her own experience, Mrs. Popkin said “it’s so much a part of me now, the two names, that when someone does the double take, it amuses me more than them.”
She ended her career as a financial planner, studying in her 60s to pass certification tests to work alongside her husband, who died in 2005.
“I thought of my mother as a left-brain person, as a writer and a creative person,” her daughter said, “and then she reinvented herself again.”
In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Popkin leaves a son, Samuel of Birmingham, Ala., and four grandchildren.
After leaving newspapers and public relations, Mrs. Popkin did not completely set aside writing.
Before an earlier stroke curtailed her ability to write, “she had started to write the story of her life for her grandchildren on yellow-lined pads of paper,” her daughter said in a eulogy at Mrs. Popkin’s memorial service last month. “She wasn’t able to finish, but what she wrote was pretty great.”Bryan Marquard
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