Dick Collins

Teacher, veteran, sailor

Richard George “Dick” Collins died peacefully at home on March 29, 2013 under the care of his wife Gay, his daughter Candace and the caring staff of Hospice by the Bay. He was 87.

Mr. Collins was born on May 29, 1925, the son of Archibald and Helen Collins, in Hollywood, California, where he grew up. 

In 1941, at age 17, he joined the Navy, where his father was already serving, and was active in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. He was on watch on the bridge of the USS Bunker Hill on the morning of May 11, 1945 when the aircraft carrier—which was supporting the invasion of Okinawa—was hit by 2 kamikaze Japanese planes. He recorded the attack, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of the ship’s crew, in the ship’s log.

At the war’s end, Mr. Collins attended Ventura Junior College and then UC Santa Barbara, where he met his wife-to-be, Gay Coleman. After a year of courtship, they were married and then traveled to Mexico City. They both attended college for a year there, with Mr. Collins graduating with a degree in Spanish.

Upon returning to California, Mr. Collins was called up as a reservist to serve in the Korean War. He spent 14 months off the coast of Korea on the dock landing ship the USS Gunston Hall. After being honorably discharged, he moved to Claremont with his wife and young son, Phil. While working at a variety of odd jobs, Mr. Collins participated in the teaching internship program at the Claremont Graduate School, eventually getting his master’s degree in education. 

His first job was teaching sixth grade at Grove School in Ontario, where he was beloved by students and parents alike for his fluency in Spanish and his genuine interest in and love of Mexican culture. When the school closed, he taught at De Anza Junior High.

When the San Antonio continuation high school opened in Claremont, he became part of its staff. His last teaching years were back in sixth grade at Sycamore School. 

Over time, 3 more children, Candace, Matthew and Charlie, were born. All attended Sycamore and Claremont High School. Mr. Collins’ avocation during this time was sailing, and he greatly enjoyed racing Lido 14 sailboats.

He also made a yearly camping trip to Mexico with his family, and became an excellent cook.

After 30 years in the classroom, Mr. Collins retired. He spent a year in London with Mrs. Collins, who was a Fulbright exchange teacher. Then, when she retired from Vista School where she taught kindergarten, they moved to Santa Barbara where he could pursue his love of the sea and sailing. 

During their 20-year stay in Santa Barbara, he became an active member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary and volunteered at the Museum of Natural History and the Maritime Museum, all the while pursuing his hobbies of model boat making, boat restoration and sailing. 

He notably restored a small French sloop he rescued from the boat yard. From Santa Barbara, he and his wife moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was happy to return to California after 4-and-a-half years in the Southwest. 

The last 3 years of his life were spent happily with his wife at his home and beautiful garden in Sonoma.

He is survived by his wife, Gay; by his oldest son Phil of Novato, California; by his daughter Candace Piuma, of Chama, New Mexico; by his son Matt, of Minneapolis; and by his son Charlie, of Albuquerque. He also leaves 4 grandchildren, Cliff, Claudia, Scott and Margot. A great-grandchild is expected in June.

The family would like to thank Hospice by the Bay for the comprehensive, loving care their staff provided during the last 5 months of Mr. Collins’ life.

A memorial celebration of his life will take place when all his family can get together.



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