The Idle American

A reach for the stars

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When folks strive greatly to take from life what matters most--learning along the way that it’s mostly about giving--phrases like “giant strides” or “standing tall” come into play. It seems “Texan to the core” to do so.

Sometimes, though, along comes someone who learns early on that noteworthy accomplishments also can accrue from taking smaller steps, reaching higher and working harder.

Such was a delightful man named Richard (Dick) Collins, a favorite by any measure. On graduation day in 1948, he and 23 classmates proudly accepted diplomas at Chillicothe High School. Under four feet tall, this oldest of five children endeared himself to his family, school and the community, a pattern that defined him throughout life. He loomed large in giving back.

Having taken more in hardscrabble values from the Great Depression than it robbed of him, this 18-year-old visited Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, hoping to study journalism there.

He wasn’t optimistic, since he had no folding money and little that jangled, but President Rupert Richardson bade him enroll, if he’d work in the kitchen. (It’s worth noting that while many students were on the “freshman 15” weight-gain list, he added height instead. At graduation four years later, he had gained about a foot in height.)

Kitchen duty was short-lived. Soon he was writing sports for the campus newspaper, followed by work alongside coaches, promoting H-SU sports across the land.

Never forgetting his roots, he made sure to return to family gatherings--as well as those at H-SU--throughout his life. Even at age 86--months before his death—he arose early, slapped a sandwich together and headed for Oklahoma City. He allowed himself just one stop so he could arrive by mid-afternoon for maximum time with family.

He led the laughter, requiring little coaxing to tell and-retell stories kin always wanted to hear.

“If you didn’t love Uncle Richard after just five minutes, you just weren’t paying attention,” said nephew Bob Renn, whose wife Debbie is writing a book about their hero.

Stories abounded at Collins’ Austin funeral recently and at his Chillicothe burial. Bill Allred, a favorite cousin, spoke of their African safari. Carlene Spicer, an H-SU colleague at whose home Collins and other campus visitors landed regularly, told about his once asking her to reach a book from a high shelf. Standing a millimeter over five feet, she said, “Dick, you’re the first person who has EVER asked me to reach for something.” He chuckled, “Well, that’s one more than has asked me.”

Collins loved life, serving as Sports Information Director at H-SU (and later, briefly at Howard Payne), as well as writing sports in Wichita Falls, Amarillo, Abilene, Pampa and Austin.

He won awards both as a journalist and a realtor. While in Austin, he struck up friendships with the late Darrell Royal and renowned golfer Ben Crenshaw. At the funeral, Crenshaw mentioned enjoying numerous rounds of golf with Collins. “It was Dick,” he said, “who first called me ‘Gentle Ben’.” (Dick wrote about all sports, favoring track and field, and covered several Olympics.)

Around age 50, Collins entered the real estate world, making his mark there, too. He was employed until his death, greatly lengthening his list of friends.

Modest to a fault and never yielding to use of the “why me?” line, he survived much. He endured two open-heart surgeries, and a serious injury on an H-SU basketball trip.

He worked long hours, and spent big chunks of time watching two TV screens. (One was always on the golf channel, the other on whatever might be “in season.”)

His “bucket list” never shortened. Whenever he marked an item off, he added another. He and cousin Bill had planned another trip to Hawaii about now, but death intervened. Oh, and that root-remembering thing: The bulk of his estate goes to H-SU, where he knew there still are wide-eyed freshmen showing up short of folding money.

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