Wednesday, June 28, 2017

John Collins’ Stewardship, Friendship, Respect, and Mentorship

My admiration of the late John Collins of Blue Mountain Lake and Indian Lake grew significantly after hearing the eulogies by John’s family and friends at the Adirondack Museum (Experience).

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.

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David Gibson

Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve

During Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history.

Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.


5 Responses

  1. Philip Terrie Phil Terrie says:

    Thanks, Dave. John Collins was a remarkable man. And a good man.

  2. Pablo says:

    I remember when John was on the Indian Lake School Board, the senior class had raised money to buy an outdoor changeable letter sign for the school, and John (at the last minute) switched it to new stage curtains, one of his pet projects. He was a leader.

  3. Dan Ling says:

    I am sorry to hear of John’s passing. My codolences to all his family, who I also think of very fondly because of the warmth and kindness they always showed me. John Collins was one of the finest men I ever knew. I can think of no one with whom I was more proud, and happy, to work with. When I struggled, John’s keen, thoughtful insight showed his ability to know what it was I was struggling with, and his kind words gave me confidence in my choices and actions. He was a consummate, natural teacher, even to those he worked with. Rest in peace my friend.

  4. George Nagle says:

    Every interaction with John made me feel better not only about efforts to protect the Adirondacks but also about myself. He was consistently positive, and I mourn his death.

  5. Sherry Nemmers says:

    Johnny carried the stories of his family, and he also carried the stories of mine, dating back to 1939, when his grandmother was alive and running the Hedges (Grama Collins). This is where my father (25) first saw my mother (19), and asked Grama Collins to introduce them. When my mother asked Grama Collins what to do if my dad tried to hold her hand, Grama Collins said, “Well, you just slap his face.” Despite that, they married in 1942. In 2016, Johnny and Ellen were the first people I told when my mom died on June 30, and Johnny immediately said, “I’ll say the eulogy, and I will be last.” Johnny was and is as deeply important to Blue Mountain Lake as the mountain itself. That will never change! With great respect and love to Johnny all of his family, past and present, Sherry (Jacobs) Nemmers

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