Surprise! Gov. Cooper awards state’s top honor to Durham Rescue Mission founders


DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) Joel  Brown – Not everyone in the room knew it, but a very big secret was being kept about the man and woman who brought the Durham Rescue Mission to life—giving countless people experiencing homelessness, drug addiction and abuse, a chance at a fresh start. Ernie and Gail Mills were about to get a big surprise.

Every table inside the ballroom of the Sheraton Imperial was filled with over 600 donors, volunteers, clients of the Durham Rescue Mission, and graduates of its recovery programs. Including Alex Winn, who told the crowd of when the Millses welcomed him to the Mission. He’d been his high school valedictorian with a full scholarship to Duke when his life was derailed by drug addiction. He addressed the audience Tuesday night as a changed man.

“And now I’m finally going to be able to return to Duke this January to finish my education,” Winn said to a standing ovation.

It’s been 44 years since Ernie and Gail Mills founded the Durham Rescue Mission in a small two-story home off East Main Street, serving a handful of people in need of new direction. In the decades since, DRM has served thousands of clients.


ABC11’s John Clark served as emcee for the night and let the crowd and the Millses in on the secret. Gov. Roy Cooper was here to bestow the state’s highest honor, The Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

“You have a thriving city like Durham, but you know that there are so many people there living in poverty,” Cooper said. “But this mission helps to bring them hope.”

Cooper reminded the crowd of past honorees including the Rev. Billy Graham, Michael Jordan, and Andy Griffith before welcoming Ernie and Gail Mills into the prestigious order.

“I really never dreamed when we started the Rescue Mission that the mission would be what it is today,” Ernie Mills said in accepting the honor. “But day by day, God has blessed.

“You are the ones, our donors, our staff, you’re the ones that have made it possible and I just want to say thank you, thank you.”

Here is the 6:00 AM segment on Wednesday, October 24th. We would like to thank John Clark for being our MC for the evening.

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