(This week The Columbian-Progress spotlights Marion County Coroner Norma Williamson.)
Q: When and where were you born?
A: I was born in Laurel on Sept. 1, 1949.
Q: Where did you attend school?
A: I graduated from Columbia High School, but I went to Glade Elementary in Jones County. Then we moved here when I was 7 years old. Then I moved back seven months later to Glade, then I went to Pendorff Center, which is no longer there. I went to Pearl River Community College for an accelerated nursing course for one year.
Q: What was your childhood like?
A: It was very quiet. I lived here in town and did the neighborhood friends thing. We didn’t go on vacations. I stayed right here in Columbia.
Q: Where do you work? Tell us about your job/company.
A: As the Marion County coroner, I’m on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. I do not have a deputy; I do it all myself. I take care of death calls in the hospital, nursing homes and in private homes.
Q: What led you to your profession?
A: In 1976, Mr. Ed Laird was the coroner, and he asked me to start helping him because I worked on the ambulance. We were always there when he got there, and he had just started having deputies at that time. I was his first deputy. I had never considered it before that. From nursing school I got a job on the ambulance and worked in the ER.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
A: The families. I cannot do anything for the person that has passed away. I’m there to help the families. It doesn’t stop with the death. It make take a while to get the insurance settled, help them come to terms with the death, help them with the death certificate and get their accounts settled.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
A: Families that do not accept the death. Right now we are struggling with a state system that we can’t get closure for a lot of families. We cannot get autopsies in a timely manner. It’s unfortunate. That’s the challenging part.
Q: What advice would you give someone considering your career path?
A: Have medical training because the rules and regulations are fixing to change, and they are requiring more and more from the coroners. It’s not like it used to be. Every year something gets added to your plate. If you don’t have medical training, you won’t know what everyone is talking about.
Q: What was your first job?
A: I worked at Walker’s Five and Dime on Main Street. I was a cashier, and I put up stock for Mr. Billy Walker.
Q: Who is the person who has been most influential in your life?
A: My husband, Colon Williamson. He was the best listener. He influenced me by the patience he had with me and the job I had. He was just the best partner and a good sounding board.
Q: Do you have children?
A: I have two boys, Danny and Randy Beets, and four stepchildren, Robin Hurst, Randy Sloan, Rusty Williamson and Rocky Williamson, and one chosen child, Pam Hamilton.
Q: If you could have anything for your last meal on earth, what would it be?
A: Fried chicken. I could eat it three meals a day. My momma, Mattie Rainey, made the best fried chicken in the world to me.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
A: To the East Coast, I’ve never been. I’ve been to Hawaii, lived in California and been to all of the West Coast states. I just want to go to the East Coast and drive.
Q: What hobbies do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I like to play with my fur-babies. I have a mini-farm at the house. That’s what helps me relax is being with them. I have chickens, dogs and cats.
Q: What do you enjoy about Columbia and Marion County?
A: Family. It’s one big family. I’ve tried living other places, and I don’t like it. I come back to Columbia, and it’s home. I’ve lived in California; they can have it. I’ve lived in Hattiesburg; they can have it. I love Marion County. And I have a choice. I could go somewhere else, but I want to be here.
Q: If you could have lunch with anyone from your life or history, who would it be?
A: I’d want to have lunch with my husband one more time.
Q: If you didn’t have to worry about money, what would you do all day?
A: Nothing — absolutely nothing. If I didn’t have to worry about money, I wouldn’t want to do anything and not worry about it. I have to sit at home, dressed and ready to go at all times. I change clothes so many times a day; it’s pathetic.
Q: Would you rather read a good book or watch a good movie and why?
A: Read a good book. TV is going to go out. A book won’t. I like a paperback book. I like the pages. What did I rescue when my house burned? My books. I grabbed “Gone with the Wind” of all things and Brandi Perry’s books, so they wouldn’t get ruined.
Q: What moment in your life has had the biggest impact on who you are today?
A: The first time I was elected. I didn’t think I’d be able to get it. It seemed too far out there to even wish for. I was not a politician. I liked doing the job, but I hate running for it. I’ve had to do it eight times. I did not think I could do it, and I did.
Q: What would be the No. 1 thing on your Bucket List?
A: Drive to Idaho to see my kids, not fly. I hate to fly. But I’d love to see more.
Q: If you could describe your morals in three words, what would they be?
A: Truth, sincerity and prayer.
Q: How would you like to be remembered?
A: As the person that cared.
— Joshua Campbell
Pictured Above: Marion County Coroner Norma Williamson had never considered the profession until the previous coroner, Ed Laird, asked her to be his deputy after growing familiar from her days working on an ambulance. She said the first time she was elected made the biggest impact on who she is today. | Photo by Joshua Campbell