The son of a career Army man, Mark Cotton lived in many places of the world before his family settled in their native Alabama. Raised to be athletic, well-read and to always do the right thing, a career in law enforcement was a calling for him. He worked his way through junior college and then Auburn University, majoring in Criminal Justice. He applied to, and was hired by, the Macon Police Department upon graduation. He finished first in academics in his recruit class and took naturally to the life of a patrol officer.
Lt. Cotton served the department for almost 28 years in a variety of capacities – on patrol, as an investigator with the drug and narcotics unit, as a member of the old Crime Suppression Unit, as a bike patrol officer downtown, as a task force officer with the Drug Enforcement Agency and, most recently, as the director of police training. His true passion, though, was serving with the SWAT team.
For almost 26 years, Lt. Cotton was a member of the elite team. He started off as a team member, became a team leader and eventually became the SWAT Commander. In 1998, he was shot during a hostage rescue mission when he and his teammates rescued a child from a gunman. He was awarded the Purple Heart by the department and in 1999, the Peace Officer's Association of Georgia named him, and several others of his team, Peace Officer of the Year. He was also awarded the Medal of Valor. Lt. Cotton completed many successful SWAT missions, responding at all hours to wherever the call took him.
The Macon SWAT team flourished under Lt. Cotton. He revamped the qualifications and training standards of the team while also advocating for his men with his superiors. Lt. Cotton held everyone to the same high standards he held himself and made the Macon Police Department SWAT Team one of the absolute best in the state. As a board member of the Georgia Tactical Officers Association, Lt. Cotton was primarily responsible for bringing the yearly statewide conference to Macon – an economic boon to the midstate that still brings more than 300 tactical officers to the area.
Lt. Cotton was devoted to physical fitness, even once getting rid of a riding mower to cut his 3.5 acres of grass because, "it just wasn't enough exercise." He was a runner, a golfer, a swimmer and a tennis player. He, while most people knew the tough, no-nonsense side of Lt. Cotton, there were many who saw the fun-loving and softer side. Notorious for leaving "smiley face warning tickets" while on the downtown bike patrol, Lt. Cotton was often spotted riding without hands and sneaking up on workers at drive-thru windows. He was never far from a bag of M&M's. His softest side, though, came through in 2004 when his daughter was born.
A devoted dad, Lt. Cotton was a fixture in 8-year-old Celia's life. He made it a point to have lunch with her once a week in school and to treating her to mid-week ice cream. On the days he would pick her up from school, he would flash his police car's blue lights for her and her friends. He set up a desk for her in his office at the Training Academy where she was known to help sort paperwork and sometimes watch training. She was sometimes an active participant in SWAT training, even assisting the team members when they training for active shooter situations in schools.
In 2009, it was a 4-year-old Celia who pinned his Lieutenant bars to his uniform. She was, as he would tell anyone, the most important part of his life. He called her "Bunny" and mastered ponytails and games of dress-up. He knew every Disney fairy's name. He taught her how to dismount a bicycle like a police officer and how to monkey bar like a SWAT guy. Most recently, he had been taking her to the track to learn how to run properly. He was, in her words, "The best daddy in the world."
Lt. Cotton is pre-deceased by his parents, Eulan and Virlon Cotton, and his sister, Debbie Cotton. He is survived by his daughter, Celia, his former wife, Cara, of Macon, a brothers, Todd (Mayte') Cotton, Mike (Anne) Cotton, and Terry Cotton, all of Alabama.
Services for Lt. Cotton, per his clearly expressed wishes, are to be private. Lt. Cotton was adamant that no public memorial service be held for him. The family has asked that those who want to pay their respects do so at the visitation on Thursday, Jan 17th from 1:00 until 3:00 PM and from 6:00 until 8:00 PM at Snow's Memorial Chapel on Cherry Street. The private service will be held on Friday at Snow's Memorial Chapel, Cherry Street and will be open only to family, invited very close friends and past and present members of the Macon Police SWAT team. Per his direction, cremation is to follow. His final wishes included that an old-fashioned SWAT party be held at Ft. Cotton. SWAT members, past and present, will be notified of that date.
to express tributes.
Snow's Memorial Chapel Funeral & Cremation Service, Cherry Street, has charge of arrangements.