The Dunn and Lillington communities lost two fine public servants in less than a week.
Longtime Dunn Police Officer Benjamin Morrison “Morry” Denning died July 2 and longtime Lillington Police Chief Lincoln Neal Sr. died July 7. Maj. Denning was 61 and Chief Neal was 89. Both received noted send-offs.
Many times, a person’s impact to their community is not fully realized until they are gone. In the case of these two men, their impacts to those they served with and those they protected were certainly known during the course of their lives, but enhanced even more with their passings.
Maj. Denning served 27 years with the Dunn Police Department and then part time with the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office at the courthouse. In total, he served 32 years in law enforcement.
“I am waking to find a pillar of our police department has passed,” former Dunn Police Chief Jimmy Pope posted on Facebook when he learned of Maj. Denning’s passing. “Morry did great things at the Dunn Police Department, like trained and mentored more folks than I can remember. The world and the City of Dunn are a little better places to live because he was here and heaven will be better because he is there.”
Maj. Denning had suffered from dementia.
For those of you who might have visited his office at the Dunn Police Department, you should remember it was a miniature museum, literally miniature, of all things police related. His toy car collection was quite well known.
Maj. Denning was a 1975 graduate of Dunn High School, a graduate of Central Carolina Community College and the North Carolina Justice Academy in Salemburg. He was a lifelong member of Hood Memorial Christian Church, a member of the Palmyra Masonic Lodge in Dunn and the Dunn Shrine Club.
Days later, the Lillington community awoke to learn Chief Neal had died.
“He was a good man who did a lot for the people of Lillington,” current Chief Frank Powers said.
Chief Neal was police chief in Lillington from 1974 to 1992, making him one of the town’s longest serving chiefs. He served as a sheriff’s deputy prior to going to work for the Lillington department. He had more than 30 years of service to the community.
He was a long-serving member of Lillington Baptist Church where he held numerous positions, including Sunday school superintendent.
He was also active in the Lillington Masonic Lodge where he was a 32nd degree Mason and the Harnett County Shine Club. He was active in the Lillington Little League baseball program and in other community organizations.
Chief Neal was remembered as usually not carrying a gun, only if he had to, like Sheriff Andy Taylor from the “Andy Griffith Show.”
“He was one of the people pastors like,” the Rev. Jeff Roberts said at Chief Neal’s funeral this week at Lillington Baptist Church. “He looked around to see what needed to be done and if he couldn’t do it, he would find someone who could. He was a man doing the best he could to serve the Lord.”
To the families and friends of Maj. Denning and Chief Neal, take comfort in knowing their lives were well lived and their communities are better off with their service.