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From the window of my friends’ van I watched as we made our way in a slow procession to Cedarwood.

The church service was over — a beautiful service with the perfect music, a touching firsthand memorial by Ben Thompson, an extremely close friend of Kevin Hawkins, and a befitting eulogy by Pastor David Schmaltz of Valley Community Church, which touched heavily on the spiritual path our friend had chosen long before his cancer diagnosis.

His casket was on display in the church he had come to love, where he spent time studying the Bible — part of his path to becoming a better person.

A firefighter honor guard stood on either side, sharply at attention, standing watch until they were relieved by another team, saluting one another and walking smartly away.

Arriving at the church, I immediately knew this would be a special service when I saw the many fire trucks and rapid response vehicles parked across the way.

But what made this a special day despite the pain we all had in our hearts was the simple, heartfelt demonstration of love which was shown for Battalion Chief Hawkins as his casket was transported to his resting place on a fire engine.

From the window of my friends’ van I watched as we made our way in the slow procession — the police officers and deputies standing at attention, some saluting as the vehicles passed. There were people on either side of Julian R. Allsbrook Highway watching.

On Old Farm Road our hearts swelled as we saw even more people standing on either side of the road honoring a man who dedicated his life to protecting others.

Children and adults either placed their hands over their hearts or saluted as the procession passed. One boy dressed in a SWAT costume sharply saluted as the caravan passed and my heart melted.

On my side from the passenger window I saw a sign telling my friend he was loved and to rest in peace.

I began thinking this was a slow procession toward the hope of healing, which let family and friends know Kevin Hawkins will be remembered in death as he was in life.

While healing comes slow and we never forget, we know we can better accept the fact he is gone and think of ways to honor him.

This display would please him because he loved people and loved his profession.

As the slow procession made its way onto Roanoke Avenue there were even more people outside Station 1 paying their respects.

While I have always been proud to call him a friend and business associate, I was even prouder to see how well-respected my friend was in this community and I couldn’t have been prouder of the people in this community who bid him farewell.

Gallery photos by Randy Wrenn and Ivan Richardson

As the slow procession toward the hope of healing made its way to Cedarwood, I knew the most poignant moments of this service were still ahead — the playing of the bagpipe as firefighters carefully eased his casket from the hose bed, the ringing of the bell to signify his end of service and the haunting version of Amazing Grace on the bagpipe.

And then came the call from Halifax Central over the airwaves — Kevin Hawkins had ended his tour of duty with the Roanoke Rapids Fire Department.

We wept as the words came over the radio but I can somehow hear my friend tell myself and other mourners, “Come on, bo, I’m not sick anymore. I don’t have this tube in my chest anymore to pump this fluid out. There’s no morphine in my body to ease the pain because the pain is gone. The swelling in my stomach and my feet is gone. I’m where I want to be. I’m home.”

The coming days, weeks, months and years will be tough. There will be an empty spot on that deck but, as solace, it will be filled with wonderful memories of a wonderful friend who always challenged us to be better people.

Saturday night we sat on the deck and chose songs about him or ones we knew he liked — my two top picks were Tough Folks by American Aquarium and The Dead Don’t Die by Sturgill Simpson.

There were plenty more that evening and there will be plenty more in the future but for right now I just want to say thank you, Roanoke Valley, for coming out to honor a man who, personally, meant a great deal to me and many others. 

Rest easy, bo, and know you were loved and respected — Lance Martin