Dr. John Richard Collins, Signal Mountain, Tenn., died unexpectedly and peacefully in his sleep on January 26, 2018, after 85+ years of tummy doctoring, worm farming, bargain hunting, finding imaginative new ways to use duct tape, and setting the bar high as a true Renaissance man.
John (aka Dad, Big John, Gunga) was born during a total eclipse in Nashville, Tennessee at Vanderbilt Hospital on August 31, 1932, to Dr. Claude A. Collins (Doc Collins/Gran Gran) and Winifred Poindexter Collins (Sug), joining older brother Robert Deaver Collins (Bob) in their loving care.
Claiming not to be an enthusiastic student, John often recounted that he “muddled” through Junior Military Academy in Cookeville, Tennessee (learned how to use slingshots to shoot stuff), the McCallie School (Class of ’49) in Chattanooga (learned how to play pranks and complained about the lousy food, while playing guard on the football team and throwing the shot put), Vanderbilt University ’53 (claims of athletic prowess? – see below), and Vanderbilt Medical School ’56 (learned how to draw blood on himself, and other med students too).
John’s many varied interests included periodically writing and refining his own obituary. Never mind the fact that he was always in impeccable fitness and health, even as he “went to sleep on his side and woke up in Glory” [his words]. He directed that his obituary “use active verbs” and “avoid those self-serving gross extravaganzas that are 3-column treatises.” He also railed on obituaries in his local paper that included lengthy recitations of degrees and professional accomplishments, since it’s “too late to impress anyone but the totally gullible and mentally challenged.” (You be the judge of whether his survivors have failed him here.)
Though largely unsubstantiated, he claimed a number of “firsts” – “first person in Chattanooga (possibly in Tenn.) to wear clogs without embarrassment,” “first 5-sport athlete in history of Vanderbilt University” [counting intramurals and frat teams?], “first (almost) gastroenterologist in Chattanooga,” and “first person to expand David Ledbetter’s pre-swing golf checkpoints to 12” [this later crept up to 20].
Having dedicated his professional life to identifying and solving spastic colons, John settled into private practice in Chattanooga in 1969, while living on Signal Mtn. since 1972. Sons Lewis and Rob (and a long line of lazy, coddled golden retrievers) were raised on a diet of Vienna Sausages and Deviled Ham, forced marches called “family hikes,” and whitewater canoe trips down frigid and un-scouted rivers throughout the Southeast. John sometimes even remembered to bring the paddles.
At Erlanger Hospital and as a founder of the Gastroenterology Lab in Chattanooga, where he performed something like 10 million colonoscopies, John’s patients recall his remarkable empathy for them as human beings, and his genuine interest in them and their families (“you have to be an advocate for your own health, don’t trust the system”). In addition to his extraordinary bedside manner, his patients, fellow physicians and family members recall a level of old-school care that is not commonly seen. He frequently gave out his home number, and free care for those who couldn’t afford it.
He enjoyed crossword puzzles, SEC football, opera music, bacon, picking up pieces of trash “to do my part,” boxed wine, fishnet undershirts, planting flower bulbs for other people, Charles Barkley, chopping wood, FreeCell, the annual family March Madness pool, and Demi Moore. But he mostly liked teasing his grandchildren, while simultaneously spoiling them with small bills and a bottomless supply of free candy (often delivered by the “trail bunny”).
He disliked managed care, the Atlanta airport, call waiting, and school reunions (since his classmates were “old”), and never wanted to be a burden. Though he once owned a cell phone, his lifetime total of text messages and social media postings is 0.
Family and friends describe him as kind, fit, patient, compassionate, optimistic, frugal, generous, wise, and funny. One patient reportedly described him as “statuesque.”
John’s survivors include his “patient” wife Susan, “loyal” sons and their “wonder women” wives, Lewis and Cary Collins of Wellesley, Mass. and Rob and Denise Collins of Chattanooga, and four grandchildren -- Taylor Collins (“a vision of fashion”), Luke Collins (“gentleman chicken farmer”), Mae Collins (“world’s greatest reader”) and Ambrose Collins (“best ballerina in the Nutcracker”). Survivors also include his sister-in-law Elizabeth Cate “Boo” Collins of Nashville; his beloved nephews, nieces and their families -- Deaver and Rebecca Collins (Nashville), Richard and Margit Roos-Collins (Berkeley, CA), Elizabeth Collins and Steve Webster (Lincoln, MA) and William and Jan Collins (Berkeley, CA)); and Susan’s “girls” (each of whom John instructed how to change a flat tire before she was allowed to drive), and their growing families -- Kelly and Bart Dyer (Canton, GA); Beth and Ben Aplin (Nashville); and Anne Louise and Chris Wooster (Nashville).
John’s grateful family will host a service celebrating his life on April 14, 2018 in Chattanooga (time/location TBD).
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to John’s favorite local organization, Signal Mountain Library, 1114 James Blvd., Signal Mtn., TN 37377.
For today, please just raise a glass of your choosing – Gunga, you will be missed.