Says dignity of deceased, grieving families will be top priority
by Christian W. Peck
Public Information Officer
Niagara County Public Information Office
For Richard Rutland, the opportunity to serve as Niagara County's new 4th District coroner seemed the perfect capstone to a career that had included time as both an emergency responder and a funeral director.
That's why he applied to fill the vacancy created by the previous coroner's resignation - and why early last Wednesday morning, he swore an oath to carry out the duties of the office, just hours after being appointed by the Niagara County Legislature.
"For me to do a good job as coroner of the 4th District is to make sure that the body is taken care of properly and with dignity," Rutland said nearly a week after taking on the office and its responsibilities. "And I want to make sure that the family will have some type of cause of death for their closure."
Rutland doesn't toss words like "closure" and "cause of death" around lightly. With more than three decades as a New York state-licensed funeral director and as president of the Rutland-Corwin Funeral Home Inc., in Newfane, he is a professional in an industry that calls itself "death care."
As a former volunteer fire chief and fire company president, Rutland has also seen his share of tragic deaths, and says that instilled in him a desire to be respectful not only of the deceased, but of those they have left behind.
"As past fire chief and past president of Miller Hose Fire Co. in Newfane, I've been through a lot of accident scenes throughout 30 years in the fire company," Rutland said. "And I've been through a few fatal fires and other accidental deaths - a lot of deaths due to automobile accidents where I had to stand by and wait with the police department for the coroner to arrive. And I gained a respect for the coroner's job at that point."
Rutland said the coroner's job isn't merely to pronounce death and ensure proper handling of last remains, but to help people often in the throes of grief.
"Throughout the years as a funeral director, I've found how to deal with the grieving process, and how to point these people in the right direction," Rutland said. "And I'm there to work with them, to help them, to help the families in their time of need."
Rutland said that meeting survivors' needs begins with a degree of professionalism brought on by 30-plus years in death care. In addition to operating the Rutland-Corwin Funeral Home, Rutland is also active in several industry groups, including the National Funeral Directors Association, the New York State Funeral Directors Association, and the Erie-Niagara Funeral Directors Association. He also serves as secretary-treasurer of the Corwin Cemetery Association in Newfane.
"I know every funeral home in every town that I'm covering," Rutland said. "And that helps in protecting the dignity of the deceased and their loved ones - you want this process to be dignified and discreet."
Rutland noted that taking over the reins of the coroner's post following a resignation and a month-long vacancy had its challenges, but that he had found immediate friends and allies in fellow coroners Ken Lederhouse of Lockport and Joe Mantione or North Tonawanda, who had jointly organized plans to ensure coverage of the 4th District during the vacancy period.
"I appreciate all that Ken and Joe did to help keep things running and get me off to a good start," Rutland said. "Since I was sworn in, I've spoken at length with Ken, who is our senior coroner with more than 25 years on the job, regarding the paperwork that will be necessary at homes, at hospitals, and at scenes."
Rutland said nearly all of the paperwork processed by the coroner's office is already familiar to him, but being the one filling it out and signing it is a notable change.
"My experience in death care and how to fill out proper paperwork - like death certificates - and my experience of notifying and working closely with medical doctors and the medical examiner's office in Buffalo means I will be able to do this job very efficiently," Rutland noted.
The 4th Coroner District includes the towns of Cambria, Lewiston, Niagara, Porter, Wilson, and Rutland's hometown of Newfane.
Many in his hometown have offered the new coroner words of encouragement. A conversation late last week with those who know him best, including members of Newfane's town government, found unqualified praise for the new coroner - and confidence in his abilities.
"I'm really pleased by Richard Rutland's appointment to the 4th District coroner's post," said Town Councilman Marcus Hall, R-Newfane. "Richie's qualifications for this job are beyond reproach. He's spent his entire life helping families through their toughest times, and he also volunteered his time with our Miller Hose Fire Co. He's a very community-oriented leader."
Hall, who said he's known Rutland for more than a decade, said the new coroner brings something very important to the job.
"Richie cares," Hall said. "He takes his responsibilities seriously, and he takes people's dignity seriously."