Frank Barron, who once was Richland County's coroner for more than 20 years, says he plans to once again seek the position.
Barron was previously coroner in South Carolina's capital county from 1978 until 2000. He was initially appointed to the post by Gov. James Edwards following the death of then-Coroner Cecil Wiles in 1978. He subsequently was elected to five full terms before falling to current Richland Coroner Gary Watts in the 2000 election.
Now Barron, 75, is looking for a return to the office. He says he plans to run as a Democrat.
"I think I can do a better job serving the people with devotion and compassion and expertise and knowledge of everything that I need to know than anybody else," he said Wednesday during a conversation at Free Times' offices.
Watts confirms that he plans to seek re-election this year.
Barron is a former president of the state's Coroners' Association. A graduate of The Citadel, he received the Order of the Palmetto — the highest civilian honor awarded by the governor — from Gov. Henry McMaster in October 2019.
A number of officials — including Columbia state Rep. Kirkman Finlay III and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson — wrote letters to McMaster recommending Barron for the Order of the Palmetto.
Finlay noted, in particular, that, when Barron was coroner, he was known for having an interest in initiatives beyond investigating deaths.
"When my father was mayor of the City of Columbia, Frank advised him to implement automated traffic signals ahead of fire trucks as they were traveling to fires," Finlay wrote in his letter to McMaster, a copy of which Free Times reviewed. "With his passion for preventing serious injuries and deaths, especially due to motor vehicle accidents, Frank has gone above and beyond what most coroners consider their duties."
This won't be Barron's first time trying to become a coroner again. He's run multiple unsuccessful campaigns in Lexington County in the last decade, including as recently as 2016, when he ran as a Constitution Party candidate and was defeated by Republican incumbent Margaret Fisher.
When asked by Free Times about his residency — considering his recent political runs across the river — Barron acknowledged keeping an apartment in Lexington County. However, he says a home on Walker Street in Columbia is his primary residence.
While he has only just formally announced his intent to run for coroner in Richland County, Barron has been heavily weighing a run and informally campaigning for some time. He claims he has attended services at 32 African American churches in the county in the last 10 months.
The coroner's office in Richland County is responsible for investigating suspicious, violent, sudden and unexpected deaths. The office determines the manner of death — homicide, suicide, accidental, etc. — in various incidents.
Barron, a father of eight and grandfather of 18, concedes there are a number of ways in which he could spend his time. But he says he continues to be drawn to elected service, particularly as a coroner.
"There's nothing I can do better than being coroner," Barron says. "There's nothing. There's no place I can serve better. I consider myself a public servant."