Sgt. Major Donna Dunbar of Bluffton rose in the ranks of the Marines and was a successful Realtor, but tributes posted on social media over the weekend also spoke to another side as well: That she was a loving and involved parent.
And sometimes the lines between parent and Marine were not clear cut.
Dunbar died at her residence on May 16 of an acute pulmonary thromboembolus — a blood clot, in layman’s terms — according to Beaufort County deputy coroner David Ott.
She was 46 years old.
Burial with military honors will follow in Beaufort National Cemetery.
“The one thing she enjoyed most is her family,” said Napoleon Dunbar, her husband of more than 16 years. “The Marine Corps came next, and she just loved taking care of people.”
Together Donna and Napoleon are the parents of 15-year-old Gabriel and 7-year-old Doniella.
“She loved her Marines just as much as she loved her kids,” Napoleon said. “No matter what time of the day they needed her, she was there.”
The memories of Marine 1st Sgt. Cheryl Milton echo that.
“She cared more about our careers than she did her own,” Milton said. “She made us her family.”
Real estate ‘force’
Rich Reed, partner at Charter One Realty, said Donna Dunbar split her time between Bluffton and Beaufort offices as a Realtor and specialized in helping military families find homes.
“She was a force of nature, that’s for sure,” Reed said.
“We normally do not hire people who have no experience in real estate, and I remember talking with her ... and being so impressed by her,” Reed said. “To be a good Realtor, you need to know your product, be reliable, be honest. ... She was all of those things.”
Reed said it was always easy to tell when Dunbar was in the office because she was surrounded by laughter and fun.
“She was great about getting everybody in the group involved in the conversation,” he said.
Volunteer and mentor
She was an excellent mother, Napoleon Dunbar said.
“One life touches so many hearts. She will be deeply missed,” one person posted on Facebook in response to an announcement of her death.
“She was absolutely one of a kind and will be so missed. I am so grateful that all three of my daughters had the honor of her mentorship and coaching,” commented another.
Dunbar’s mentorship was not limited to Beaufort County, nor to Marines.
Last year, she was invited to speak during Naval Leadership Weekend at the University of Notre Dame. Her speech to 250 midshipmen from across the United States stressed the importance of building a legacy and of being committed not only to one another but to their communities.
Setting an example
Dunbar served in the Marine Corps for 27 years before her retirement in 2016 at Parris Island as sergeant major, the highest rank an enlisted Marine can achieve.
In 2013, she talked about her time as a drill instructor in an article published by the Marine Corps.
“I took my career in steps, always looking to advance to the next level,” she is quoted as saying.
Milton said Dunbar was an inspiration for the drill sergeants who reported to her.
“She never came to work without looking flawless, very poised, very well put together,” Milton said. “She held us to those same standards. She set the example from the top.”
Milton said Dunbar helped them deal with personal issues and connect with their own families.
“She raised us,” Milton said. “We have to carry on her legacy. Nobody can ever take her place, but we can continue her legacy.
“I owe it to her.”