And the new Anoka County medical examiner is ... Dr. Quinn. But Dr. A. Quinn Strobl is more likely to remind families of her predecessor and role model, Dr. Janis Amatuzio, the "compassionate coroner," than the 1990s TV character.

"I worked for her [Amatuzio] for so long, for so many years that you couldn't help but learn her philosophy," Strobl, 36, said Tuesday after the county board voted unanimously to hire her to replace the retiring Amatuzio.

"And, yes, I've heard all the Dr. Quinn references. Since Quinn is my middle name and the one I prefer, I supposed I brought this on myself."

Strobl's hiring is significant throughout Minnesota and even in parts of Wisconsin. Amatuzio, a respected author and arguably the best-known coroner in the region, worked alongside Strobl in the year-old, state-of-the-art Midwest Medical Examiner's office in Ramsey.

Under Amatuzio, that office has served nine Minnesota counties, which pay a per-capita charge for coroner services. They are Anoka, Isanti, Wright, Meeker, Mille Lacs, Crow Wing, Sibley, McLeod and Todd counties. Nearly all are expected to retain Strobl as coroner. The office also has service-fee contracts with three Wisconsin counties -- Polk, Burnett and Douglas.

Commissioner Dan Erhart, tongue firmly planted in cheek, reminded other board members who were curious about Strobl that "most people are not real anxious to see her."

But Strobl, a forensic pathologist who will work closely with office administrator Gary Alberts, said, "I want people to see us as the medical team they can come to with questions when there's nobody else to ask."

Perfect marriage

The next of kin almost always have questions, but for most of her college years at Penn State, Strobl never envisioned she'd be the one with the answers. The Philadelphia native was working in a research lab, and not particularly excited about doing so, when she heard people talking about applying to medical school. A light bulb went off. Sure. Why not?

At the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, she considered a career in family practice, but also surgery. Being a medical examiner, she decided, was the "perfect marriage of all disciplines."

"I interact directly with the family, I deliver the diagnosis and I answer a wide spectrum of questions," she said. "I don't deliver the bad news. Hopefully, I deliver answers."

Strobl, accompanied Tuesday by her husband, Jeff, came to Minnesota in 2000, working for the Hennepin County medical examiner before being hired by Amatuzio six years ago.

The mother of two young daughters, Strobl knows that emotions weigh as heavily as science in her field.

"This isn't TV drama, but we are the ones who read the suicide notes," when there is one, she said. "There are various reasons for suicide, but you can't logic your way to an explanation. There is nothing rational about suicide. Some of the answers we seek are beyond science or rationale."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419