F.G. “Nick” Nichols arrived at work Monday like most any other day.
The long-time Laurens County Coroner was greeted by Chief Deputy Coroner and friend Vickie Cheek, who held the door open for him.
“He smiled with that big cigar hanging out the side of his mouth and said, ‘Did you think I couldn’t open the door by myself?’” Cheek recounted in a Facebook post Monday night. “That was Nick, Mr. Independent. He had a good morning but little did we know that yesterday would be the last time he would be back to the office. God had bigger and better plans. We will miss him so much.”
Nichols, 76, died Monday afternoon. County officials said he suffered a fall and later died of a heart attack after being transported to the hospital.
He had served in the Laurens County Coroner’s Office for 37 years, starting out as a deputy coroner in the early 1980s. He was elected coroner for the first of five terms in 2000. His fifth term would have ended in November 2020.
In recent years, Nichols had suffered several health setbacks. Early last year, Nichols had his left food amputated eight inches below his knee due to complications from diabetes. He was out of the office for two months, but determined to come back after several surgeries and hospital stays.
“I feel good, and I feel strong,” Nichols said in June while at the Roger C. Peace Rehabilitation Hospital in Greenville. “I’m just anxious to get out of here.”
Health problems had continued to persist over the past few months, but Nichols’ death came as a surprise to friends and colleagues.
Laurens County Council Chairman David Pitts praised Nichols for being more than the office he held.
“He treated the 70,000 residents of Laurens County with respect, dignity, care and concern,” said Pitts, who attended church with Nichols and had known him for Pitts’ entire lifetime. “He could talk to the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor – white, black and everyone. That’s a quality that’s quite admirable if you ask me.”
Nichols was named Coroner of the Year in 2007 by the South Carolina Coroner’s Association and was named recipient of the Sue Townsend Award for demonstrating professionalism and compassion on the job as coroner. In private life, Nichols owned Nichols Texaco and other businesses, but retired from his business interests soon after being elected to his first term as coroner. He was also a member of Clinton First Baptist Church and the Laurens Shrine Club.
“The thing that stands out about Nick was his consistency,” said Clinton Police Chief Sonny Ledda. “It didn’t matter who he was talking to or dealing with, he was always the same with everyone, and he was always caring. People will say they can’t imagine what it’s like to be a law enforcement officer, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a coroner.
“When I was on patrol as a road deputy, I often worked at night and a lot of fatalities occurred at night. It could be natural death or an accident but it could be two or three in the morning, and he would be there. Nick always treated people with compassion. I’ve seen him praying with survivors. I’ve seen him pay out of pocket for things to help people. … Nick was truly a good man.”
Nichols took on Potter’s Field – a cemetery with unmarked graves near the Laurens County Airport – as a pet project. Over the years, beginning at the turn of the last century, the poorest in the county were laid to rest there. The cemetery was used until the past few years. Nichols annually placed a Christmas Wreath on the stone marker bearing the name “Potter’s Field” so that the anonymous and departed would be remembered.
Laurens County Administrator Jon Caime said Nichols also fought for his staff and his department. As Laurens County’s population has grown, so has the coroner’s office out of necessity.
In recent years, Nichols campaigned for better equipment, proper storage of evidence and better pay for members of his staff.
Laurens County Sheriff Don Reynolds lauded Nichols for his dedication for nearly four decades.
“He has always been a straightforward person, and I appreciated that,” Reynolds said. “His professionalism, passion and dedication has served Laurens County well. He will be greatly missed.”
Nichols is survived by his wife of 58 years, Myra, and two sons, Nicky Nichols III and Art Nichols, as well as brothers Terry Nichols and Jerry Nichols, and five grandchildren.
At Nichols’ request, no funeral services are planned. His body is to be cremated. Memorials may be made to the Laurens County Potter’s Field, 216 W. Main St., Suite 114, Laurens, South Carolina, 29360.