Kimberly Pepper-Hoctor

Spouse of Lt. Thomas Hoctor

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower

Naval Station Norfolk

Not many people can say they were proposed to during the Academy of Country Music Awards with Billy Currington singing in the background. The proposal by Lt. Thomas Hoctor, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower’s (CVN 69) aircraft handling officer, during the 41st annual awards program in Las Vegas in May 2006 took his soon to be wife Kimberly Pepper-Hoctor by surprise.

“He had been stationed on board USS Abraham Lincoln, and also worked as a bouncer at the country and western bar I used to go to with my girlfriends to dance,” Kimberly recalled. “He had been asking me out for a while. Once I finally realized what a nice guy he is, we finally started dating, but then he transferred to the Eisenhower to be the ‘handler.’ He had flown back to Seattle for a visit, and I had flown out to Virginia too. He tried to get me to move here.”

After living in Ireland and only recently returning to Seattle, Kimberly had established a great job and was not ready to move again unless marriage was her motivation. Knowing this, Hoctor asked Kimberly to meet him in Las Vegas for the Awards. The rest is Hoctor family history.

“We married in August 2006, so I packed up and moved to Virginia. Three months later, he left for what turned out to be a nine-month deployment,” Kimberly said. “It was hard to be a new military spouse. I didn’t realize how hard it would be. I can’t imagine having to be separated and have kids. I’ve traveled all over the world and lived all over, but all by myself. It’s a weird feeling to know you’re married to someone and know they aren’t around. I have a new appreciation for military spouses.”

Kimberly, who jokingly says her official Navy title is “Mrs. Handler,” used this opportunity to delve deep into her passion – her expertise is in environmental public relations and marketing with 16 years of experience behind her.

“I had worked on the corporate social responsibility team for Microsoft, and had been a spokesperson for Allstate for crisis communications and natural disasters when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2004,” Kimberly said. “I had worked at an environmental law firm in Seattle, as well as with a PR agency. But there did not seem to be many employment opportunities here. It was frustrating.”

As a career woman who put herself through college and built a career working 70 to 90 hours a week, she had established a good reputation as a publicist.

“I feel in love with man of my dreams, and then struggled to find a job,” she said. “So two years ago, I decided I had the talent for freelance work and started my own public relations and marketing agency called Red Dot Public Relations.”

In addition to the contract work and the “green” marketing campaigns she works on, she spends a large amount of her time using her skills to volunteer in the community, including helping the Suffolk Humane Society’s 2008 Mutt Strut raise more than $70,000 for a new shelter.

“I just went to town getting the executive director and committee chair on all the local TV stations and radio programs. We showed some of the dogs that were adoptable,” Kimberly explained. “The Society had a temporary building at the time, and was waiting to get the land and money to build a regular shelter. Unfortunately, when the tornado hit in last year, it demolished the temporary shelter. We set our goal at $100,000 for the Mutt Strut and in reality, hoped for $20,000. We actually raised $70,000. The marketing campaign really worked.”

Kimberly’s environmental expertise has come in handy volunteering for Virginia Beach’s Clean Community Commission, whose mission is to bring environmental issues into community focus and help community members to be more environmentally conscious. In this vein, she helps market Earth Day and Clean the Bay Day activities.

“I was a board member for the Earth Day 2009 committee. The Board called me the whirlwind kid, because I’m full of energy. I have volunteered to chair two committees – one is promoting and marketing the event, and the other is to find sponsorships.”

Kimberly explained not as much promoting had been done before, but she has been able to help with setting up local television and radio sponsorships and paid sponsorships, as well as set up the website www.earthdayvb.com, set up accounts on social networking sites, as well as facilitate podcasts and placing the events on at least 50 “green” calendar sites throughout the country. As a result, the city expected attendance numbers to more than double this year to 45,000.

Kimberly also used her talents to help market a campaign last fall for the owners of The Royal Chocolate shop in Town Center in Virginia Beach, when they donated 10 percent of that week’s sales to the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia, resulting in a donation of more than $800, as well as the collection of a large amount of canned food. Kimberly also helped a staff member at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth publicize a luncheon to benefit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation.

Terming herself a “Greentrepreneur,” Kimberly frequently volunteers to speak as an expert on “Going Green” and other environmental issues. She has spoken six times during Clean Community Commission events for several Hampton Roads cities, and has been featured once on WTAR-AM “Ask the Experts,” twice on CW27’s “Free2BGreen” and in “Inside Business” twice.

Kimberly has recently joined the Plastic Bag Coalition, which pushes legislation to ban plastic bags. And she is being considered for a position on Congressman Glenn Nye’s Advisory Board for Military Families.

“It gives me a really warm feeling to be able to bring what I’ve done in the past into volunteer work,” Kimberly said. “I don’t do things halfway, whether it is a pro-bono client or through volunteering. I do what needs to be done to get the best results.”

In addition to finding a new outlet for her talents since marrying Hoctor through his military connection, Kimberly has also discovered some little known facts about her own family’s prior relationship with the military.

“My grandfather felt comfortable talking to my husband about his own military service,” Kimberly explained. “I just found out that my grandfather was a bomber during World War II, and while flying a mission over Italy, the engines were blown out. He got the crew back safely and was awarded the Silver Star. He told my husband the story, and no one else knew.

“And on my dad’s side, it turns out my grandmother was one of the first WAVES in Pearl Harbor and was a gunner’s mate,” Kimberly continued. “My grandfather was an Army medic. There is a lot of strength in my family, and I didn’t know it. It warms my heart to hear these stories.”

With 26 years of service and a scheduled transfer to Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland in July, Kimberly is excited about the idea that Hoctor’s 18 years of sea duty are behind him, and they will be able to spend the rest of his career together with little separation.