FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — A nursing professor at Georgia State University has become the first woman in county history to win the seat of coroner.
Her term begins in January.
Mary Beth Pais, who won a runoff election Aug. 21 against Harold Bennett, will replace Lauren McDonald III, who has served as coroner since 2001.
“I’m overwhelmed with the outpour of support I received, and I had a worthy opponent,” Pais said. “They felt I was the candidate that would serve them the best, and I’m very humbled and very grateful. I think by being a registered nurse, I can bring it to an even higher level.”
McDonald, who has served for 12 years, chose to run for Forsyth County sheriff, but came in third in the July 31 primary, ending his bid for that position.
McDonald runs the McDonald and Son Funeral Home in Cumming.
This is not the first time Pais has run for the position of coroner. She previously lost in a bid against McDonald eight years ago.
Prior to McDonald, the position was held by Buck Ingram, who served for 28 years.
Pais is an educator at GSU’s Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions.
“I haven’t sat down with Mary Beth, but I’m looking forward to sitting down with her and going ahead and starting the transition and showing her our information and getting her in tune with the budget,” McDonald said. “It will be seamless.”
Pais will have her own office and be in charge of three deputy coroners.
“They do a lot of handwriting in regards to their information and I’d like to bring in a software package to make it more expedient and I want to be more efficient,” Pais said. “I don’t plan to change anything until I figure out how I can make it more efficient and effective.”
McDonald said it’s been a challenge and a great learning experience being coroner.
He had been in office for 21 days when the coroner’s office was challenged by the murder of Randy Thompson, a Forsyth County firefighter, who was poisoned with antifreeze by his girlfriend, the late Lynn Turner.
In 2007, Turner was convicted and sentenced while she served a life sentence for using antifreeze in 1995 to kill husband Glenn Turner, a former Cobb County police officer.
Another incident McDonald said happened on his watch was the Final Exit Network, which was linked to the 2008 suicide of a Forsyth County resident. The case was subsequently dismissed and four people were found not guilty.
In March, the General Assembly passed House Bill 1114, legislation that establishes criminal penalties for assisting in a suicide.
“I’ll miss serving the community,” McDonald said. “I felt it was time for a fresh set of eyes to come in and hopefully take it to another level.”