ROWLAND — Before he ever put on the gray uniform, William Bruce Bullock devoted his life to the North Carolina Highway Patrol.
“As a policeman, he would say one day I’m going to wear one of those uniforms and drive one of those cars,” said Hubert Covington, a Lumberton police officer and retired highway patrolman who worked with Bullock early in his law enforcement career.
Bullock, who retired as a major in the Highway Patrol in 2003, was killed in single-vehicle car accident Wednesday night. According to his family, he was the only Robeson County native to reach that rank with the organization.
Bullock, 63, who went by Bruce, served with the Highway Patrol for 25 years. He began a career in law enforcement after graduating high school and serving three years in the U.S. Army.
“He came back to Lumberton and immediately set his sights on the Highway Patrol, but he needed more experience,” his sister, Cathy, said.
Bullock served five years with Lumberton Police Department and the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office before becoming a trooper. He joined the Highway Patrol on Aug. 1, 1979, and retired Nov. 30, 2003, according to the North Carolina Highway Patrol Retirees’ Association.
“It seemed as though it sort of lifted his spirits to help people,” said James McVicker, who served with Bullock at Lumberton Police Department and the Highway Patrol and is now sheriff of Bladen County. The two grew up together in Rowland, working side by side at a grocery store.
According to his sister, Bullock was a “dedicated caregiver” to both his mother and his wife of 39 years, Janice, who died about four months ago.
“The one thing I remember that really lets you know where his heart was, when his wife died and we came to the church, there were a lot of highway patrolmen sitting together and he came in, stopped and saluted them and then sat down,” McVicker said.
Trooper J. Connor, who investigated the wreck that killed Bullock, said he never worked in the same station as Bullock, but would often see him out and about. He recalled recently seeing Bullock hand out tie pins to troopers.
“This job here takes a lot of composure,” he said. “Anybody who wears this uniform, their mindset, their mentality has to be down to earth.”
According to Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Jeff Gordon, Bullock was traveling east on N.C. 130 at about 7:15 p.m. when his Toyota SUV ran off of the road and struck a ditch. The accident occurred about nine miles east of Maxton, near Quinn Road. Bullock was pronounced dead at the scene. According to a wreck report, he had been traveling at about 85 in the 55-mph zone.
“After impact, the vehicle became airborne and traveled a significant distance in the air before landing on its top in a field,” Gordon said in a statement. Bullock, who was alone in the car, was wearing a seat belt.
“He was a fine man, I can’t say anything bad about him,” said Connor.
His sister and brother, Percy W. Bullock, say Bullock took great pride in his work and was always professional. Bullock had one son and four grandchildren.
“He could be stern when the situation called for it but those of us who knew him well, saw a compassionate man,” Cathy said.
Percy Bullock recalled once asking his mother what she liked most about Bruce.
“She said he believes in doing the right thing. He is tough-looking but is good and will help you,” he said.
McVicker said Bullock’s character was unchanged by a long career.
“The caliber of person he was — he never wavered in that,” McVicker said.