Nearly a decade has passed since Bill Collins retired from the Index-Journal, and while at the time he was 78 I did not think that a column feting Bill and his storied newspaper career would be followed up this soon with one written as a eulogy.
Bill died Tuesday at the age of 88, two days shy of Veterans Day. That’s significant, at least for me and in my time here at the IJ working with Bill. I fondly recall the many years he and I would head out the side door of the office and walk over to Main Street to the war memorial for Veterans Day ceremonies. Bill served in the Army, having slipped in at the young age of 17 and having the honor of being an original member of the Army Airborne Rangers.
While the bulk of Bill’s career was spent in journalism, there was no mistaking he carried the same pride and patriotism of a career military man. That was evident in his participation in Veterans Day ceremonies and other military-related occasions as much as it was in his editorials and columns.
He loved his God, his country, his family, his friends and his profession. As his son, Christopher, told me the other night, whatever his dad did or said, it was genuinely with love at its core. That, even on those few occasions when the drill sergeant side of Bill surfaced in the newsroom. He and I did not always agree on all things relative to newspapering, which is hardly unusual, but there was mutual respect, and I learned a thing or two under Bill.
His retirement 10 years ago was bittersweet. In many ways, he was not ready to retire. After all, he still thought, formed opinions and could write. Writers — journalists — do not run out of things to say. It’s an art, after all, and much like those guys named Mick and Keith who just performed in Atlanta, artists don’t simply quit. They might slow down, but they don’t quit.
I recall Bill telling me at least a dozen years ago that when he retired — or did he say “if?” — he wasn’t going to be one of those guys who would stop by the old office to visit and chat. He respected good and honest work, and so he wasn’t about to disrupt the flow of others’ work just because he could.
And you know what? He meant it. I can only recall a couple of occasions when Bill came by the office. One was to bring me a copy of a spy mystery he wrote in 2018 titled “A Secret to Die For.” He also wrote “A History of Davis and Floyd,” commissioned by longtime friend Emmett Davis to do so. And he was known to dabble in poetry. Told you writers never quit.
If memory serves me well, the other time he stopped by was to deliver a guest column in person because email was on the fritz or something. He was true to his word. He wasn’t one of those retirees who just drops in for a chat.
He did not return to writing for the newspaper immediately after retirement, but a handful of years ago he got back into a rhythm and began contributing pieces on a regular basis. Once accustomed to cranking out daily editorials and weekly columns, Bill bowed to the newspaper’s rules on guest column frequency and did not seek preferential treatment.
He would email his columns, sometimes with a note and a kind word, especially in acknowledging when our newsroom amassed some press awards, and other times with just a quick line to say he was sending his latest offering.
While I knew Bill’s health had been in decline lately, I certainly wasn’t expecting the news I got this past week. And it did not occur to me that his final guest column in the Index-Journal would be the one published Oct. 26.
Or was it?
Remember, writers don’t just quit.