Less than a week after Columbia County Coroner Thomas "Tommy" L. King Sr. died, a longtime colleague was sworn into his position.
Vernon Collins, former deputy coroner, was sworn in Monday to fill the two years of King's unexpired term.
"Somebody told me that I had a big set of shoes to wear," Collins said at the ceremony held at the Thomas L. King Sr. Morgue on Monday afternoon. "I was thinking about that. My best analogy about Tommy is, for 16 years, he's been working on a pair for me to wear."
King, who owned and operated Thomas L. King Funeral Home in Martinez, served as Columbia County coroner since being sworn into the office in December 1972. Collins served as King's deputy coroner for 16 of his 34 years in office.
King, 69, who battled congestive heart failure and chronic pulmonary disease, died Nov. 1 at his home.
Columbia County Probate Judge Pat Hardaway was charged with appointing a coroner to fill King's unexpired term. Collins was the natural choice, she said, after King specifically requested that Collins be his replacement.
King's wife, Bonnie, who Collins has appointed chief deputy coroner, watched the ceremony teary-eyed, but agreed that if the coroner couldn't be King, it needed to be Collins.
"That was Tommy's wish," Bonnie King said after Collins was sworn in. "He made that very verbal in the last few days."
Several county officials including Sheriff Clay Whittle, Commission Chairman Ron Cross, Commissioner Diane Ford and County Physician Dr. Alton Garrison gathered into the morgue office to support Collins in the appointment.
"I look forward to working with you," Cross said, congratulating Collins with a handshake. "Thanks for all you've already done."
Collins, safety director for Augusta Delivery Service, said he's ready to tackle the job.
"I'm here to take care of the families in Columbia County when they have the most difficult time," Collins said.
When asked what his first act as coroner will be, Collins calmly answered, "I don't know, wait for the pager to go off, I guess."
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