About a week into my new job with the Monitor, a gentleman stopped by the office in Mineola. With a friendly smile, he walked to my desk and introduced himself. We shook hands and he welcomed me to Mineola. He said he just wanted to come by and meet the new editor.
At the time, I was still trying to get my bearings. I didn’t know the difference between the Primary School and the Elementary School. I didn’t know Broad Street from Blair Street. Worse, I knew little to nothing about the man who’d shaken my hand that day. Had I known of his accomplishments, had I known of his lifelong devotion to his community, had I known of his service to his fellow human beings, I would have been floored that he’d taken the time to drop by.
That man was Wayne Collins.
A fellow journalist once suggested I write a profile on Collins, who was described as an extraordinary man. Sure, I thought, I’d get around to that … someday.
I finally got around to writing about Wayne Collins the day after he passed away. And as I went through past editions of the Monitor to learn what I could about him, after I’d read the obituary submitted by his daughter, after I’d talked to Mercy Rushing and Greg Hollen about his character, service and his achievements, I realized I had blown it.
I think about the questions I would have asked him had I not waited too long. What thoughts drifted through his mind for all those hours he piloted a single-engine airplane over vast stretches of ocean? What drove him to deliver airplanes to medical missionaries in Africa? Why did he fervently believe in the need to revitalize downtown Mineola? Why did he devote so much time and energy to improving the county’s airport? From which wellspring did he draw his energy, enthusiasm and uncommon zest for life? The line of questioning could have been as broad and endless as one of those horizons he chased after in his airplane.
When he came by the office that day last summer, he made nary a peep about all he had done, which was characteristic of Collins, according to people who knew him. He wasn’t one to brag, to take credit for accomplishments. Instead, he probably would invoke a Boy Scout tenet and chalk it all up to “teamwork.”
I last saw Wayne Collins seated on the back of a red convertible, serving as grand marshal at Mineola Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas parade. He looked a little tired, but he continued to waive and smile to the multitudes lining the streets that chilly December evening, still connecting with his fellow Mineolans, still reaching out to the city he loved.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Wayne Collins over the past few days – a man I hardly knew, but a man whose qualities I wish were my own.