On January 8, 2002 Beaufort County Sheriff Deputies LCpl. Dana L. Tate, Sr. and his partner Cpl. Dyke "AJ" Coursen were killed when they responded to a domestic disturbance call in Burton, SC. Tyree Roberts, concealed inside a bedroom closet, shot each officer multiple times with an assault rifle. Roberts was convicted of both murders and is now sitting on South Carolina's Death Row.
Outrage over the deputies' deaths sent shockwaves through South Carolina. The outpouring of public grief found expression at massive official ceremonies that mourned and honored these two heroes. These public rituals enabled the community to heal and move forward. For Marie Tate, widow of LCpl. Tate, her grief and anguish have been private.
On January 7, 2012 Marie, along with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, Beaufort Academy, and board members of CODA (Citizens Opposed to Domestic Violence) will sponsor the Tate/Coursen Memorial Walk/Run.1 After a decade-long journey, Marie is ready to integrate a personal and public memorial to her husband, Dana.
I met Marie in the Beaufort office of Tate Enterprise, LLC, a bookkeeping and administrative services company. She is the president and CEO. Her posture and handshake were crisp, her manner gracious. She offered me tea. In the small kitchenette she asked, "Do you like butterflies?" I do. They signal transformation. She said, "Good. We'll get along."
When we settled in her office I noticed all the butterfly images. "When Dana died my heart shattered. I had so much pain in my body I couldn't stand it. My teeth hurt. I was angry with God. I couldn't bear the brutality of his death. One day I was in the memorial garden I made for him in our yard. I was just screaming that I couldn't do it anymore. A yellow butterfly kept fluttering around me. At first I ignored it. Then I swatted it away, but it kept hovering. And then I had the most amazing sensation-'the peace of God which passeth all understanding' [Philippians 4:7]-and I knew that Dana was OK... I was lifted up and comforted and I knew the yellow butterfly was watching over me. It was my sign."
The room is still for a moment. There are tears. "I know God is faithful. But it's been ten years and it's still so hard sometimes."
Marie and I spent the afternoon together. She told me about Dana, their love, their marriage and their four children-two from his previous marriage. Her memories were circular, dates and facts compressed within a larger story. Sometimes she stopped and the loss of him made her eyes vacant. But she is strong and faith-full. And she wanted to keep talking about Dana.
She described him as quiet and caring, someone who hated the limelight. "The main thing about Dana is he loved life and he loved our family. He was a big prankster. He lived as though he wasn't going to be here long and he didn't want to miss anything, so we were always doing things."
"He took us to the rodeo. He took us to NASCAR. He filled his man-cave with Jeff Gordon memorabilia. He loved drag racing and he loved his 'muscle cars.' He owned a '73 Corvette Roadster and a vintage Camaro Z28. We each had our own motorcycles. We had so much fun."
She shows me his picture in uniform. He is tall, dark, movie star handsome. He was known for his immaculate grooming. Every Sunday Marie meticulously ironed his uniforms. An impressed co-worker once asked Dana for the name of his drycleaner.
She laughs, "I'm not saying our marriage was perfect", she rolls her eyes, " we could swear like the sailors we were,2 but we were just so good together. He told me, 'If I don't introduce you to someone I'm not being disrespectful to you, they just don't deserve to know you.' He was so strong and dependable and protective of me and the kids."
"He just wanted to experience everything life had to offer. He used to say, 'It's better to burn-out than to fade away.' He knew something was coming. His birthday was December 21st. Soon after that, before he died, he told me, 'I have everything I ever wanted.'"
As she talks, I watch the play of pain, laughter, wonder, humor, and yearning cross her face. What's revealed is the depth of their connection. the poignancy of his absence.
Smiling, through tears, she says, "This is a love letter to my husband." I nod silently. Yes it is.
Children: Daughters: Dayna (35), Rashauna (23), Denise (18); Son: Dana Jr. (33)
Highlight moment: Her graduation speech after completing the Citizens Police Academy (CPA) offered through the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office this Fall.
Excerpt: "Now I know why my husband liked being a Deputy Sheriff so much. I needed to understand how [deputies] could embody the commitment and dedication that would make them willing to give the ultimate sacrifice, their life. I knew that once I got the answers my healing process would continue.My goal is to become an asset to this community in my own way."
1 Tate/Coursen Memorial Walk/Run: Saturday, January 7, 2012 (10 a.m. - 2 p.m. For details go to: www.tateenterprise.com
2 She Met Dana: On her first tour of duty on the naval ship USS Dolphin, commissioned out of Charleston