Coroner shows leadership in tough issues

Richard Greenwood has helped the community deal with a rash of suicides and is finding final resting places for unclaimed remains.

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Leadership is not often a term used in describing county coroners.

In the short time Richard Greenwood has been in office in Walla Walla County, he has demonstrated leadership above and beyond the normal scope of coroner duties on two sensitive issues.

First, when it came to his attention the number of suicides in the county had jumped dramatically in January - matching the total for all of 2010 - he assembled various leaders to brainstorm ways to deal with the mounting crisis.

Then last week he saw the cremated remains of 11 veterans given an honorable resting place at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery. The remains of these military men had been unceremoniously stored in the coroner's office for between 23 and 59 years.

Those 11 are only a small percentage of nearly 300 containers of unclaimed remains in the office. Records on these go back as far as the 1940s. It was through Greenwood's efforts to deal with those that got members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 466 in College Place involved. Through the efforts of Greenwood, Paul Hellie, Ken Silver and Joe Waiblinger the veterans' part of the problem was solved.

Greenwood and Assistant Coroner Alison Barnett may be nearing a solution for the larger problem. A local family has offered the county a donated burial plot as a possible resting place for the other unclaimed remains.

Being coroner isn't a glamorous job, but Greenwood has shown there are ways to serve the public besides just filling out paperwork and scheduling autopsies.

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