The slivers of time that I shared with John since I first met him at the Adirondack Park Agency thirty years ago became tall pillars of pine after hearing from those who grew up with John, or grew better and stronger thanks to their interactions and positive influence.
Environmental values were broadly present in the crowd attending these eulogies. To me, John was heroic from that perspective. During the time I knew him every vote he cast at the Adirondack Park Agency had seemed principled in that way, and he cast some very difficult votes on complex development permits. Then he chaired the APA for four years. During all that time he was not only principled, but also fair. He chaired the APA during a period of controversial regulatory changes that were carried out, to my memory, with the utmost concern for diverse public involvement and advice, and responsiveness to public comment.
I learned from his family and friends who spoke at the museum that John Collins was not defined by his Adirondack environmentalism. John was a teacher. He raised fine young people in and around his family, his home places, in the woods, on the lakes and rivers, and in his school in Long Lake. He was a mentor and firm friend inside and outside his family. I learned that he was the handiest of handy men, a hard worker, a fixer-upper in all seasons. He was hospitable to friend and stranger alike.
John was and will always remain deeply rooted in the region’s culture. He was self-deprecating and full of humor. People loved to gather around John because John loved to be among people. He swapped stories – and what a storehouse of stories. He laughed. What a voice he had. He gave freely and generously of himself. He was loyal, he respected people and behind that respect was honesty. He honestly told you what he believed, but never pushed himself on others. He respected his historical, cultural roots which, in his ethos, were inextricably related to the scenic, wild, quality Adirondack environment which lay at the heart of its economic future, too.
He was a team member, a joiner and a leader of citizens concerned with their environment – wilderness and people – from the water quality of Blue Mountain Lake, to the APA in Ray Brook, to the Northern Forest stretching from Old Forge 20 million acres across to Maine. There are many whose versatility extends only so far as team membership or leadership, but not to both. John seemed to move comfortably between the two. He led by example and experience, and from principle, not from dominance.
I learned a lot from his family and friends. I went to John’s wake at the Long Lake Hotel with a far more rounded view of this man. Among those who gathered in his honor, were hundreds of us who recognize in John Collins the very best in Adirondack Park protection and stewardship, friendship and respect, mentorship, and care of all creation.
Photo: John Collins accepts the Howard Zahniser Adirondack Award, 2009.