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Family and friends host drive-by parade for Roanoke nurse celebrating retirement after 40+ years

Johnny Rowland served in the Navy before working at the Salem VA Hospital

ROANOKE, Va. – Social distancing is making it tough to celebrate major life milestones. Parties, happy hours and get-togethers are all on pause right now. But one Roanoke family isn’t letting that stop them from celebrating their hero.

Johnny Rowland is the man of the hour Thursday night. There are dozens of people and signs driving by his front yard for something big.

“It’s a great ending to a wonderful career, I look forward to just moving on and enjoying life,” Rowland said.

He served six years in the Navy and worked 45 years saving lives as a surgical nurse at the Salem VA Hospital. It’s all coming to end at a very unique time, and Rowland’s brother-in-law Les Miller said the family wasn’t going to let this milestone go quietly.

“Everybody’s used to coming to a party when you stand around and celebrate, but this gives you a little bit more here to see that people are taking an extra step," Miller said.

A big party was in the cards but it was canceled in this coronavirus world. Instead, they held a drive-by parade, and Rowland was none the wiser.

“My wife said that well I was going to take you out to dinner, but now we can’t do that, you know we’ll just have to wait until things calm down,” Rowland recounted.

Calm isn’t a word most people would use to describe the scene in front of his house, however. His mother-in-law Jean Stump hung herself out of her car’s sunroof as her daughter drove by. She said she can’t find a better guy.

“He’s a great husband to my daughter, he’s a great father to his sons and his grandchildren absolutely adore him," Stump said.

Rowland was left with a mile-wide smile, an example of joy in its purest form. It’s appreciation for a lifetime of accomplishments, even in these crazy times.

“I was a veteran taking care of veterans, I could never ask for a better job and I truly loved it," Rowland said.

Rowland looks forward to doing a lot more fishing and visiting out-of-state family once the lockdown is lifted.


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