For him, death knows no schedule

CHESTER -- While most of Chester County drifts in slumber, Tommy Williams faces death.

Car crashes. Murders. Suicides. When a life ends in Chester County, Williams often gets called to the scene.

Death knows no schedule. Asleep? Wake up. Holiday? Doesn't matter, not when you're the chief deputy coroner and it's your time to work.

But whenever the 49-year-old Chester native is asked to examine what many wouldn't be able to stomach, he goes. Not just because it's the job he volunteered to do, but because he knows there's someone who cares about the person he must examine.

"There's not anything we can do to bring the person back," Williams said. "But we do everything we possibly can to try and help the family."

Williams' dedication has recently earned him the deputy coroner's award from the S.C. Coroner's Association. This is the first time the award has been given.

Having worked more than 20 years as an electrician, Williams frequently spends his days ducking under houses. When his longtime friend, Terry Tinker, was appointed coroner almost two years ago, Williams was the first person Tinker asked to help him. The position paid nothing, and Williams had to take time off from work to attend classes so he could learn how to do the job.

Williams and Tinker navigated the coroner's tasks together.

"If it weren't for him," Tinker said, "I don't know what we would have done, what I would have done. He's been a blessing to me."

Williams assisted Tinker in all the homicide and suicide cases. When Tinker needed help at a scene, he'd phone Williams -- at any hour.

"I have been up in the middle of the night many, many times," Williams said.

Last year, Williams was called to a scene where a man had been struck by a train. Tinker was out of town, meaning Williams was in charge. He spent the entire night tracking down the man's family.

"The hardest part of the job is going and notifying a family that has no earthly idea that something has happened," Wiliams said. "In the middle of the night, when you have to go to the door, that is the worst part of the job."

Some people fall apart when they hear the tragic news. Others want to know everything. Williams tries to answer as many relatives' questions as he can. But sometimes he knows the details are too much for them to handle.

Tinker said his chief deputy has a compassionate way of treating people, an approach that inspires trust even when families are suffering through the worst.

"Just a dedicated man," he said.

When Tinker was at the coroner's conference last week, he learned his friend had been chosen as the top deputy coroner in the state.

Williams was back home -- on call.

At Monday's County Council meeting, State Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, presented the award to Williams, a guy who prefers to stay out of the spotlight and simply help his buddy do the job that few are willing to take.

The quiet electrician said he was honored to get the award. But the recognition is not why he does this work.

"I want to thank you for what you have done," family members sometimes tell him. "You and Terry have done everything you can."

"And that," he adds, "just makes me feel good."