Jerry Kenneth Champion, 84, retired tugboat captain and docking pilot

Jerry Kenneth Champion

WILMINGTON — Jerry Kenneth Champion, 84, passed away Monday, April 12, 2021.

Jerry was born Jan. 14, 1937, in Kings Mountain, son of the late John David Champion and Ozelle Thornburg Champion. He was also preceded in death by his wife, Diane P. Champion; brother, Ronald “Joe” Champion; and sister, Linda K. Jernigan.

Jerry served in the U.S. Army 1st Special Forces as a demolition expert and a heavy weapons instructor. While enlisted, he married his longtime sweetheart, Diane. After being honorably discharged from service in 1962, he went on to join the U.S. Army Reserve until 1967. Jerry then worked for Stone Towing as a tugboat deckhand and soon after, a captain. It was then that his love of navigating the Cape Fear River was born. After many years of being a captain, guiding cargo ships into the river, he set his sights on becoming a docking pilot. As many of you know, once Jerry set his mind to something, he did it.

As a docking pilot, Jerry thrived on a profession that was often considered physically dangerous and risky. Watching him leap from the bow of a tugboat onto a rope ladder to scale the sides of massive ships was very impressive to say the least. Once on board, the on-board crew would gladly make way for him to take over control of their wheelhouse and assist the tugs in turning the massive vessels around in our narrow, yet mighty, Cape Fear River. After retirement, Jerry volunteered at NHRMC. He enjoyed spending his spare time being a Deda to his grandchildren and great-grandchild. He loved spending time in his garden growing “tomato trees,” as we called them, along with boating, shrimping and beekeeping.

Jerry is survived by his son, Kenneth Ray Champion and Shannon Strickland; daughter, Kelly M Champion; grandchildren, Melanie Kelly and Katherine Kelly; great-grandson, Nathan Angle Chase Kelly; and four-legged friend and constant companion, Ginger.

Visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, April 15, at Coble Funeral & Cremation Service at Greenlawn Memorial Park, 1155 Shipyard Blvd., Wilmington, NC 28412. Military Honors will be held at 11 a.m., Friday, April 16, at Greenlawn Memorial Park 1311 Shipyard Blvd., Wilmington.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to SECU Hospice House of Brunswick or charity of your choice.

Share online condolences with the family at Coble Funeral and Cremation Service at Greenlawn Memorial Park.

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