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'They were finally going on their trip of a lifetime' | St. Simons couple among three killed in Amtrak train derailment

Friends say Don and Marjorie Varnadoe were celebrating their fiftieth anniversary with a cross-country trip when the train they were on derailed Saturday in Montana.

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating what caused an Amtrak train to derail Saturday killing three people and hospitalizing seven.

The cross-country Amtrak train, traveling from Chicago to Seattle, derailed in Montana. Two of the three people who died were Don and Marjorie Varnadoe, friends say, a couple from St. Simons Island.

RELATED: Report: Glynn County couple killed in Montana train derailment

They were celebrating their fiftieth anniversary.

"When we first heard the news, it was just total shock," Tom Jones, Senior Pastor at St. Simons United Methodist Church, said.

The Varnadoes volunteered at their church, he said.

“It's such a tragic time because these two individuals were dedicated members of our church involved in many ways," Jones said.

“Some people, you know, they act kind from time to time, but these two individuals have a spirit of kindness about them and it carries," Jones added. "You knew when you met them that they truly cared about you and whatever circumstances you might be experiencing in your life, and people like that are hard to come by where they're so sincere, and the depth of their spirit is so deep that, you know, without a doubt, that they truly care."

According to a spokesperson for Glynn County Schools, Don Varnadoe served on the school board from 1999 to 2002. The spokesperson said Marjorie Varnadoe, known as Margie, retired as Assistant Superintendent of HR. She was a long-time teacher before that.

Don Varnadoe was a prominent realtor in town for more than 40 years, friends said. 

“Tuesday at our meeting, he came and told me they're finally going on their trip of lifetime and they were really looking forward to it," Robert Kozlowski, Don Varnadoe's co-worker of close to 20 years, said. “Don was just amazing. He was somebody who everybody in the community kind of looked to. He did not just work for real estate, but he was just active everywhere."

Kozlowski said Marjorie Varnadoe was extremely active in the community too.

"Margie was always doing for other people. That's what she did," Kozlowski recalled. "That's what she loved to do. She'd wake up finding something to do for somebody else."

Roland Daniel worked with don Varnadoe as a realtor too. 

“We’re only promised the breath we take right now and that’s it, so it’s a reminder to just live every minute," Daniel said. “Don was just a very peaceful pleasant fella, very professional. He’s one of the few people I know that I never heard him say anything negative about anyone."

Daniel said the loss of the Varnadoes is already being felt.

“There’s going to be a gap a big hole in the community without the Varnadoes here," he said.

Kozlowski said something that brings him some comfort is that they were together.

"They were two people of faith," Kozlowski said. "So, they're still together living the rest of their life, so it is a trip of a lifetime."

Former Glynn County Schools Superintendent Howard Mann sent this statement regarding the loss of the Varnadoes:

"I’m just devastated by the loss of my friends Don and Margie Varnadoe.  Margie was an integral part of the school system’s administrative team and totally reorganized the Human Resource division along with Paul McKenzie.

"Don, was a great Board of Education member and clearly understood his role, which was approving policy and helping develop the system’s budget. They had a deep commitment to the Glynn County community especially when it involved the well being of children.

"They were truly exceptional people who will be sorely missed."

According to the Associated Press, there were 141 passengers and 16 crew members onboard. Eight of the 10 cars derailed.


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