Last updated: November 27. 2013 8:43PM - 741 Views
Mac McPhail Contributing columnist

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You may have seen her down at the Sampson County Board of Elections. If you had a voting or election situation that needed help, you probably did. It seemed like Donna was always handling situations. If you needed an absentee ballot, she could help you get it. If there was a problem with a voter registration or eligibility, she would, if possible, straighten it out. Whatever the situation or problem, Donna Marshburn would do the best she could to take care of it.

I was working during elections at the Board of Elections when Donna became director a few years ago. As I continued to work there from time to time, I got to know Donna better, and grew to respect her work as director. Her job wasn’t easy. Politics is an emotional subject. Sometimes it brings out the worst in people. This was especially true during the election last year. In an effort to gain viewers, the media played up any possible voting irregularities, whether real or imagined. The political parties also promoted voter suspicions, primarily as a means to stir up their base. But throughout the difficult process, Donna would meet each challenge with the determination to get it right, but with a smile.

While she may have had opinions on the issues and candidates, she was far more concerned about the election process than the election results. I remember her saying, “We’ve got to get this election right. Make sure we’ve got all the “i’s” dotted, and all the ‘t’s” crossed.” I joked with her and said her main goal was to make sure the news satellite truck from WRAL wasn’t parked in front of the Board of Elections on election night.

But even back during the election last year, Donna wasn’t well, and over the past year her health deteriorated. After fighting the good fight, Donna Marshburn passed away on November 19. And at age 64, it was too soon.

You may have seen him at McDonald’s. He was the elderly man sitting at the table watching people come and go, drinking his coffee. But you recognize him because he is always giving out pieces of candy to the little children eating there. (He always made sure it was with the mother’s permission.) The employees at McDonald’s knew him as the “candyman,” and looked forward to his regular visits.

But to me he was Terri’s father, Mr. Dan. I had known Dan Cottle for almost seven years. Already in his eighties when I met him, he still loved to work in his yard. He had a particular way of doing things, and if you were going to help him, you did it in that particular way. We got along well, but my not so particular way of doing things sometimes did not quite measure up to his standards.

Mr. Dan worked hard in his lifetime. One of eleven children, he would tell stories about the struggles of growing up during the Depression. I enjoyed listening to those stories. (You might as well enjoy them, because you were going to hear them anyway.) Mr. Dan would tell how he worked at the tobacco market, for the highway department, and sold cars in order to provide for his family.

And I soon learned that his family was most important to Mr. Dan. He always wanted to be sure that his wife, Mrs. Micki, would be taken care of. Terri and her brother, Danny, were always a source of pride to him, as were the seven grandchildren and the seventeen great-grandchildren. All he wanted was for them to do well. He was happy when they were happy. He hurt when they were hurting. Mr. Dan would wonder what he could do to help, and would be frustrated when he couldn’t.

Age finally caught up with Mr. Dan. Over the past year, he became weaker and weaker. But the “candyman” continued to make it to McDonald’s as often as he could, with his pockets full of candy for the kids. (I would joke with Terri when I would see his truck there and say, “Well, everything’s right with the world. Mr. Dan is at McDonald’s.) Then, after a couple of recent stays in the hospital, his health went downhill fast. Last Sunday morning around 3 AM, Mr. Dan Cottle passed away at his home, with his family by his side. At age 89, he had lived a good life.

You won’t see Donna at the Board of Elections, or Mr. Dan at McDonald’s anymore. We’ll miss that. But they both have been released from the pain they had been enduring and, as professing Christians, are in a much better place.

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