Longtime political leader remembered for dedication to community

GREENFIELD — No one is really sure what drove Dr. Fred Counter’s dedication to Hancock County and its residents, but its impact is clear on the people he left behind.

A transplant from the East Coast, Counter dove head first into public service while making a home in Hancock County, serving in various political positions, including chairing the local Republican Party and working in the county coroner’s office, for decades.

Along the way, he inspired those around him to give back to their communities, his old friends and colleagues said.

Now, local stakeholders are mourning the death of the longtime leader, who dedicated much of his time to helping make local government thrive.

The 81-year-old Counter died Friday at his home in Florida, where he’d retired with his wife, Marilyn, in the 1990s. She and their two daughters survive him.

A scientific researcher by trade, Counter spent much of his free time serving Hancock County residents for 20 years as the county’s elected coroner and another 11 as the chair of the local Republican Party.

He also worked as a reserve deputy for the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, served on the Greenfield-Central School board and was appointed by the Hancock County Community Corrections Board to oversee offenders sentenced to home detention.

Counter came to Greenfield in the 1960s after receiving a PhD in microbiology from the University of Massachusetts. He accepted a post with Eli Lilly and Co. as a research scientist, a job he held for more than 30 years.

Counter was first elected the Hancock County coroner in 1970s, and he continued working for the office in various capacities for more than 20 years, county attorney Ray Richardson said.

He was a careful and humble man, who did the work out of interest rather than political or economic gain, Richardson said. In the two decades that Counter worked in the coroner’s office, he never once asked the county’s leaders to raise the position’s salary, Richardson said.

Joe Fortner, who worked as a deputy coroner when Counter held the top job, said Counter was a teacher first and foremost.

The longtime coroner was always eager to take new recruits under his wing to show them the proper way to conduct a death investigation. He wanted to make sure the coroner’s job was done right and that families were properly cared for, Fortner said.

While working in the coroner’s office, Counter also led the Hancock County Republic Party, helping the local GOP flourish, said Beverly Gard, a former state senator. Gard worked as the party’s vice chairwoman under Counter’s leadership, and the pair became fast friends.

Counter was a “world of energy, with a strong commitment” to whatever town he called home, Gard said. After Counter relocated to Punta Gorda, Florida, he continued working for the community there, though he never forgot his friends in the Hoosier state, she said.

Counter’s success came from the top-down management style he embodied, Gard said. He was involved in every step of local elections, from picking the right candidates to helping design yard signs. His likability meant he never lost an election, she said.

Outside of the public eye, Counter loved boating and could always be spotted in the crowd; he was the one making those around him hoot with laughter, friends said.

“He really left a mark on the community,” Gard said. “He’d want to be remembered as someone who made a difference.”

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.