Lewes icon Capt. Thomas Rowland Marshall III passed away April 30 at his home facing Delaware Bay. He had turned 100 in January.
Rowland, who carved out his life on the water, was a retired Delaware Bay and River pilot who climbed up on the large barges in Delaware Bay and Chesapeake and Delaware Canal for 51 years until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1991. He followed in the steps of his grandfather.
During World War II, he was commissioned into the U.S. Coast Guard with the pilots association. He served as president of the association from 1967-73.
Rowland married Marian Catherine Hocker July 25, 1945, at the Lewes Presbyterian Church. The young couple lived on Lewes Beach while they started their family. They raised two daughters and a son and were married for 69 years.
In 1954, the Marshalls moved to Wilmington as Rowland was one of two pilots licensed to navigate ships through the C&D Canal. The family returned to Lewes every summer where life revolved around enjoying the beach and the bay. They moved back to Lewes in 1967.
Born at Beebe Hospital, Rowland grew up in Lewes in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1940, he graduated from Lewes High School, where he participated in sports and played trombone in the band.
He and his family relocated their home each summer from downtown Lewes to a cottage on Lewes Beach, where their lives centered on the beach and bay. “A lot of people did that back then,” said his daughter, Connie Marshall Miller. “He told me they would put the refrigerator on a truck and pack up their clothes and move to the beach. Those were the days before air conditioning.”
He became one of the first members of Lewes Yacht Club and later became a life member, and served as commodore in 1957-58.
He was inducted into the Lewes Maritime Hall of Fame in 2008.
He was an avid sailor all his life and competed in hundreds of events, including more than 40 years in Mobjack regattas with his daughter Connie serving as his crew. Rowland and Connie finished second in the Mobjack Nationals in Lewes in 2006. At the age of 85, it was Rowland's last race.
His friendly competition with longtime friend Rodney Evans was legendary. Even into their 60s and 70s, they were the two sailors to beat.
Rowland and his fellow sailors built the first Delaware Bay Sailfish in his garage on Bay Avenue. He was a life member of the International Mobjack Association.
Rowland's circle of family members is enormous. He was called Uncle Rowland by a host of people in Lewes.
Rowland has witnessed dozens of significant events in the history of Lewes, and he loved to tell stories about that history. Most of those stories involved a lot of laughter. During his induction ceremony into the Maritime Hall of Fame in 2008, he talked about the opening of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and Roosevelt Inlet. He said Mayor Dave Burbage was determined to be the first person to cruise the canal from the inlet. But as he stood at the bow of the boat, out of nowhere a Coast Guard boat passed his boat and became the first to cruise the canal.
“I’ve been through the inlet hundreds of times and that memory always comes back to me,” he said, laughing along with everyone else.
Many of those stories have been recorded, thanks to an interview with Rowland conducted by yacht club members and Lewes Historical Society.
Rowland was a devoted member of St. Peter’s Church in Lewes, serving on the vestry and singing bass harmonies in the choir for many years. He was an accomplished carpenter and antique furniture refinisher, and he put these skills to work at the church and the Lewes Historical Society.
Following the 10 a.m., Sunday, May 8 service, a new portico at the church entrance will be dedicated in his memory.
See his full obituary here.
Rowland was preceded in death by his wife Marian, their son Thomas R. Marshall IV and his sisters, Mother Virginia of All Saints’ Convent, Catonsville, Md., Sue Schell Preston Dean of Vero Beach, Fla., and Lillian M. Burris of Milford and Lewes.
Rowland is survived by his daughters: Constance Marshall Miller (John) and Linda M. Fischer (Bobby), both of Lewes; 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m., Monday, May 16, at St. Peter’s Church, Second Street, Lewes, where friends can pay their respects beginning at 10 a.m. Burial will be private.