My father, Webster Marlowe, 84, of Palatka, Florida, died peacefully in his home on Monday morning, October 10, 2016. He is survived by his wife, Marie Benedict Marlowe, my brother and me, his sister, Katherine Long, of Liberty, SC, four grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by 10 brothers and sisters and two great-grandchildren.
Daddy was born December 1, 1931, in Jacksonville, FL, to Thomas Lee Marlowe and Ola Alberta Cantee. I could never remember whether it was December 1st or 2nd, and if I called him on the 1st, he tell me to call him again on the 2nd. Many times, I forgot. He grew up on Park Street and graduated from Lee High School. His family was active at Trinity United Methodist Church, and my dad represented the Jacksonville sub-district at the Southeastern Jurisdiction Young People’s Leadership Conference. This is where he met my mother, the former Sarah Athelene Payne. She was 16 and he was 18, and he would eat her breakfast since she did not eat. Daddy joined the Army and would hitchhike to Thomasville to see my mom.
After serving in the US Army during the Korean War, my parents were married and Daddy enrolled at High Point College. I was born in 1954, and to quote my mom, I was “the apple of his eye from birth.” My brother came along two years later. There was never any doubt that my dad loved me. His long-time secretary always said that the only difference between the two of us was the plumbing.
Long before Mr. McGuire would give Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) his one-word advice in “The Graduate”, Daddy was approached by someone to start a plastics company in 1955. Daddy said that his first question was, “What is plastics?” He co-founded Flex-O-Pak in 1955 before leaving for Rex Plastics in 1959. In 1965, he struck out on his own and founded Southern Film Extruders in High Point, NC. Daddy worked day and night to make the company a success, once even triggering my mom to bring his pillow and suitcase to the plant. He was a member and national councilman of the Society of Plastic Engineers, and we often traveled with him in the summers.
During one trip to New York City, my mom took us to see a game show called “Say When.” Before the day was out, my mother became a contestant on the show. Our short trip was extended, as she continued to win. Among her winnings were a car, a fur coat, a pair of beautiful Rembrandt table lamps, and a trip to the Virgin Islands. My dad made sure my brother and I got to go along on the trip, where we were entertained by a member of the Duke Ellington orchestra. Perhaps this is where my brother and I both developed our love of jazz.
In the mid-1960’s, Daddy decided he wanted to learn to fly. Cecil Lawing was his instructor, and Cecil had a Cessna 175. Daddy loved flying, but my mom said it would be life or death before she got in the plane with him. Death it would be, as my mother’s cousin was dying of kidney failure and family members were being tested for the possibility of transplant. Daddy loved flying and soon would purchase a 1956 Cessna 172, N7214A, which would become my plane as soon as I got my license. We spent most Saturdays out flying. One of Daddy’s favorite stories was taxiing in at the airport in Myrtle Beach and being asked, “What are you doing flying Suzanne’s airplane?” I was in trouble for that, because he knew then I was flying to the beach when I was supposed to be in school.
Southern Film Extruders continued to expand and Daddy eventually took the company public. He had locations in Florida and in New Orleans, so he was gone even more than ever. My parents divorced and my relationship with my dad changed. Divorce is not easy on adult children, either, and I was often put in the middle by both of my parents. Daddy and I would be estranged for months at a time but if I needed him, he was there. I never doubted his love.
Daddy moved to Palatka in the 1980s and eventually became an active member of the Carraway Seventh Day Baptist Church. He and his late wife, Beverly Marlowe, began the “Joy In the Morning” ministry for unwed mothers, which provided assistance for more than 100 single mothers. On a trip to Haiti, he found his passion and learned to build artificial legs in order to serve Haitiian amputees. Over his 20 years of travel, he even had “repeat customers” whose original legs had worn out or been outgrown. He began his travels to Haiti when “Baby Doc” Duvalier was in power, and was in Haiti when Aristide was overthrown by military coup. None of this dampened his passion for Haiti, nor did the violence he witnessed frighten him. His faith and his passion were stronger than the fear. Daddy would more than 50 mission trips to Haiti and three to the Dominican Republic, bringing artificial limbs to needy recipients. My dad loved Haiti and the Haitian people.
Since mid-July, I’ve watched my dad wither away. I’ve sat at his bedside and helped him fulfill his final wishes, except for training his replacement in Haiti. That I could not do, but I tried. He was just too frail and I couldn’t get the young man here fast enough. By mid-September, Daddy was barely eating and walking was a struggle. The phone call on October 10 was no surprise, but I know now he is at peace. Even my mother made the statement that no one had greater faith than Webster Marlowe.
We’ve planned a memorial service for Saturday, October 29, 2016, at the American Legion Post 45, in Palatka, FL, at 3:00 p.m. ET, and we’ve asked people to consider contributing to Haitian ministries through Bethlehem Ministry, http://www.bethlehemministry.org, PO Box 48387, Athens, GA 30604.