A career in the coroner’s office often is portrayed as a gruesome job with exhausting hours that is unavoidably filled with tragedy and death.
Former Florence County Deputy Coroner Don Reynolds, who retired from his post earlier this month, said the job wasn’t an easy one, but the rewards he gained from helping others when they needed it most surpassed the hardships.
“A lot of time you don’t get any rest, and it takes a lot out of you being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long,” he said. “It always paid off, though, knowing that we helped these people.”
Reynolds, a Florence native, began his career as the county’s deputy coroner in 1994 under then-Coroner M. G. “Bubba” Matthews. Reynolds said a motivation throughout his career with the office was to make sure the deceased person’s rights were always respected, even after the person had been forgotten.
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“In a lot of cases, people didn’t have any family or friends that we could notify, so there’d be no one to look out for that person’s body after death,” he said. “As a coroner, I wanted to make sure that person was looked after and honored … and even if it was just to make sure their belongings were looked after.”
He recalled an extraordinarily busy day when he responded to 13 deaths within a 24-hour period. An especially heart-wrenching aspect of the job was notifying family members that someone they loved had just died, often in a tragic manner.
Reynolds had seemingly countless stories of breaking tragic news to a family, then immediately offering them comfort during their grief.
“Sometimes the news was just too much for people to handle, so you had to be there to give them that support,” he said. “And that’s what we did. In some cases you had to let them know over the phone, and that was just devastating, because you knew you couldn’t be there for them.”
He said that throughout his time as deputy coroner he was always asked whether he’d ever consider running for the coroner’s position. He always had the same response.
“When you’re boss, you have too much to worry about,” Reynolds said. “I knew I was qualified, but I was comfortable doing what I did, so I stuck with it. Besides, I’d already had a stressful job in the past.”
Even though he held the job for more than two decades, deputy coroner wasn’t Reynolds’ first full career.
He retired from the South Carolina Highway Patrol in 1991 after working there for roughly 30 years. After that, he played a role in forming the Florence Rescue Squad, which eventually turned into Florence County Emergency Medical Services, and spent 10 years as a training officer in that field.
Now that he’s done with work, Reynolds’ agenda is filled with a few “honey-do” errands for his wife, Doris, some leisurely travel and a whole lot of relaxation.
He also plans to enjoy his time as chairman of buildings and grounds for Hopewell Presbyterian Church, of which he’s been a member for nearly 38 years.