Two Men Shared Heart, Both Commit Suicide

After Terry Cottle killed himself more than 12 years ago, his heart beat on in former Hilton Head Island resident Sonny Graham.

Grateful for the transplant that saved his life, Graham wrote to thank the Cottle family. Through that correspondence, he met Cheryl Cottle, his donor's widow. Then the unexpected happened -- they fell in love and married.

Earlier this week, the unexpected happened again, when Graham's life ended the same way Terry Cottle's did.

On Tuesday, Graham took his own life at his home in Vidalia, Ga. He was 69.

He was found with a single gunshot wound to the throat, said Greg Harvey, a special agent working the case for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He was found in a utility building in his backyard and had used a shotgun, Harvey said. A medical examiner in Savannah performed an autopsy Wednesday. No foul play is suspected.

On Friday, a memorial service was held in Lyons, Ga. The heart that gave two men life was finally laid to rest.

THE GIFT OF LIFE

The story began in 1995 when doctors put Graham, who was on the verge of congestive heart failure, on a transplant list.

That same year, Cheryl Graham's first husband, Terry Cottle, shot himself in the couple's Summerville home, said Berkeley County Coroner Glenn Rhoad.

Rhoad said Cottle was on life support at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, so his organs could be donated.

Graham got a call from the hospital when Cottle was taken off life support. He rushed to Charleston, where doctors transplanted the heart later that day. When he was released nine days later, Graham didn't know the donor's identity. He knew only that the heart that saved his life came from a 33-year-old South Carolina man.

Then, in late 1996, Graham wanted to thank his donor's family for their gift of life. He connected with the Cottles after an exchange of letters through the organ donation agency.

Graham and widow Cheryl Cottle, then 28, corresponded for two months and met in Charleston in January 1997.

They married in 2004 -- three years after Graham bought Cottle and her four children a home in Vidalia, about 130 miles west of his Hilton Head home.

Between their previous marriages, the couple had six children and six grandchildren scattered across South Carolina and Georgia.

Graham retired from his job as a plant manager for Hargray Communications -- he was one of the original employees at the Hilton Head branch-- in 2003, and left Hilton Head to move in with Cheryl in Vidalia. Cheryl Graham, now 39, has worked at several Vidalia hospices, and is currently employed at Serenity Hospice.

She could not be reached for comment for this story.

A HELPER BY NATURE

Graham, a Georgia native, moved to Hilton Head in the mid 1960s, living in Hilton Head Plantation for most of the time since.

His friends said after Friday's memorial service that Graham was a well-rounded person who had many interests -- hunting, cooking, playing sports and helping raise money for Hilton Head High School. He was always willing to help, no matter the circumstances, they said.

"Any time someone had a problem, the first reaction was, 'Call Sonny Graham,'" said Bill Carson, Graham's friend for more than 40 years. "It didn't matter whether you had a flat tire on the side of the road or your washing machine didn't work. He didn't even have to know you to help you."

Carson, who served as director of The Heritage golf tournament in Hilton Head before Graham assumed the role in 1979, said he last saw his friend about two weeks ago on a fishing trip in Georgia.

"We didn't fish as long as I wanted to," Carson said in a slow, Southern drawl. "He said, 'I'm going to call you back when the fish are really biting.' "

Another kind of call came this week.

A COMPLICATED LIFE

Graham, who served as Heritage tournament director until 1983, came back to the Hilton Head golf event every year. In fact, badges for this year's

Verizon Heritage had already been sent to him, said Steve Wilmot, a close friend and current Verizon Heritage tournament director.

At the Heritage, Graham always volunteered with two close friends, even after leaving Hilton Head.

One of them is former Hilton Head High School principal Bill Evans, who still works for the Beaufort County School District.

Evans' daughter and Graham's son went to Hilton Head High together after Evans started as principal in 1986. At that time, the school still played its football games in Bluffton.

Graham changed that by organizing an effort to get Hilton Head High its own field, which -- unknown to him until the day it opened -- was named the Remus T. "Sonny" Graham Field.

"He loved the kids at that school," Evans said. "He stayed involved even after his son graduated."

Graham's daughter, Michelle Crozier, who lives in Bluffton with her husband, Kevin, and two daughters, echoed those comments.

"He was an amazing person," she said. "He was just one-of-a-kind -- a loving, generous father who will be deeply missed."

Evans said about 300 people attended Friday's memorial service. About half of them were from Hilton Head, Carson said.

"He was very loyal and very helpful," Evans said.

"And sometimes it was very complicated to be his friend


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