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Wilkesboro judge drowns trying to save married couple at Sunset Beach

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WILKESBORO, N.C. -- Some of Judge Mitchell McLean's friends and acquaintances were shocked to learn he'd passed away Wednesday, but not shocked to hear how it happened.

McLean, 54, went out into the Atlantic Ocean at Sunset Beach in Brunswick County to help a couple that was struggling in the surf.

The man survived, but McLean and the woman drowned.

"It doesn't surprise me that he died trying to help somebody," said McLean's close friend and golfing buddy Dennis Joyce. "He died the way he lived."

Joyce said he'd known Judge McLean most of his adult life, having practiced law with him and in his court room, where McLean had served as a District Court Judge since 1998.

"As a judge he kept people's dignity intact. He was very fair, but he was also firm."

Many of his friends sat around Oakwoods Country Club Thursday remembering "Mitch" as a good friend, husband, and father as well as an "improving" golfer.

His friends also said he was a quick, high-scoring point guard at Division III Emory and Henry College in Emory, Va.

Judge McLean leaves behind his wife Beth, sons Finn and Jack, and his mother.

"I'm sure there's an open spot for him up in heaven," Joyce said.