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In 1993, Sgt. Donnell Marlowe received a call about a car that had driven off the road south of Shallotte.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said.
A car carrying two adults and their four children pulled off the side of the road to allow an emergency vehicle from Calabash to pass. As the vehicle pulled off, the tires slipped and the car became submerged in a ditch.
Marlowe rushed to the scene to the find only the bumper sticking up from out of the water.
“That’s all you could see,” he remembered. “I was scared. I just reacted.”
With a passing motorists’ help, Marlowe pulled his sheriff’s office patrol car off to the side, got out, and did the only thing he knew to do.
“I knew I had to save their lives,” he said.
Marlowe, who couldn’t see any of the passengers and had to feel his way through the muddy ditch, saved the two adults and rescued two of the four children.
Two of the children died, but Marlowe remembers feeling thankful he was able to save four of the six people who had been in the car.
It was one act in lifetime full of service.
All of his service was recognized by his family, friends and the governor Thursday, March 20, as Marlowe received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest civilian honor. He accepted the award in front of several family members and friends.
The Ash native said he never would’ve imagined as a school-aged boy at Longwood School and West Brunswick High he’d be recognized as one of the Tar Heel State’s finest servants.
“You know, they tell you to be there at a certain time and place and when you get there, they give you this award,” Marlowe said. “You don’t even know what to say. You know what I mean?”
After obtaining his law enforcement degree from Southeastern Community College in the mid-1970s, Marlowe returned to the area he knew best.
He’s still working for the sheriff’s office, only this time as a reserve deputy.
Marlowe has worked under four sheriffs: Herman Strong, John Carr Davis, Ronald Hewett, and now John Ingram.
Ingram said Marlowe has represented the office of the sheriff in a manner all law enforcement officers should strive to reach.
“(He) upheld the oath he took on Oct. 5, 1976, to the fullest extent and still does to this day,” Ingram said. “He has represented (the office) with the highest respect, honor and dedication that a law enforcement officer could.”
Marlowe began with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy before he was promoted to sergeant two years later. After eight years as a “sarge,” he said, he became a lieutenant. He retired from the detective division with that rank in 2006.
“There was never a question what I wanted to do in life,” Marlowe said. “Ask anyone I grew up with, I was going to be in law enforcement.”
Not only did he work in law enforcement, he excelled as a Brunswick County lawman.
So when he retired in 2006, there were no talks about golf or picking up projects around the house. Where could you find him? No place other than patroling the streets of Brunswick County, the halls at Waccamaw School, or other areas where he became so familiar in the past 40 years.
“I don’t know anything else,” Marlowe said. “This is what I love.
“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” he said. “I’ll work here as long as the sheriff will allow me to work here. I’ll work as long as my mind and body can keep up. I don’t have anyone to thank for that except the good Lord.
“The citizens of this great county, that’s who I do it for. I enjoy what I do every day. I love serving these people to the fullest. I’m thankful to the people for allowing me to serve them for this many years.”
Marlowe became the second Brunswick County citizen to receive the award in the last three months, joining Birdie Frink, an advocate for victims’ rights.
Sam Hickman is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.