Tribute to a Truly Great Man

RADM Frank Charles Collins, Jr., USN, ret.
October 29, 1927 – December 23, 2013

My last blog post, in early December, focused on thanksgiving and legacy, highlighting the rich heritage we have in our families of origin.  At that time, we had no idea that my dad's days on earth would expire less than three weeks later. But God did. And we have seen His gracious hand in the unfolding events of this past week in an unmistakable way.

After a ten year battle with dementia, my sweet Papa breathed his last on December 23 at 2:05 p.m. As only God could've orchestrated, we were with him, as were all of our immediate family except Derek, Julie, and Nathan.  (There were also numerous other family members there, including of course his beloved bride of 65.5 years, who never left the chair next to the sofa upon which he died)  as well of 5 of his 7 children.  We had gone to San Diego as scheduled for two days of Christmas with them Dec. 22, arriving an hour before he opened his blue eyes for the last time and 24 hours before he breathed his last.  Two days earlier, he was eating normally and maintaining status quo.  His rapid decline began Saturday morning and he was gone Monday early afternoon.  So much mercy in him not lingering when it was apparent he was "done" on earth. 

This week has been filled with a gamut of emotions, for sure.  In his very compromised condition, we all knew that death would surely be gain for him and we wanted that for him.  And for us, because we knew he was going to the arms of his deeply loved Heavenly Father, his death held no fear, dread, or uncertainty.

It just held deep sorrow as we said good-bye to one who has so impacted our lives.  The day that we wanted/didn't want had come.  Though comforted by the belief that this death will separate us only temporarily, it's still really hard to bury one who has your heart in a way few others do.  And, unequivocally, the second most important man in my life. 

There are so many ways my dad has influenced who I am.  Because our temperaments are similar, we have shared a natural bend in doing life.  Besides that, we shared common interests in so many areas: from our love of the outdoors—hiking, camping, swimming, running, biking—to our love for reading, writing, and speaking; we also shared our love for order, organization, stewardship, and maintenance.  But our bond runs much deeper than these temporal features could facilitate.

I think that bond was forged because of who he was "when no one was looking." His character proved his core values.  He could be trusted because his walk matched his talk.

Only retrospectively am I able to see that his commitment to being a man of standing, a faithful husband, and father was core to my feeling safe, secure, and well-loved as a child.  Generational blessings.  Such a gift!

The two best gifts he gave me were his love for Christ and his love for my mom.  His love for Christ was real.  It informed all of his lifestyle choices and priorities.  He loved God's word and committed much of it to memory.  He loved the church and was committed to being involved in it as well as serving it.  He was an authentic follower of Christ.

The other treasured gift I cherish is how he loved my mom (and admittedly this was a two-way street — Mom adored her Frank!)  He loved her well, sacrificially, adoringly, and with a servant-heartedness not often seen.  He loved her up close and he loved her from afar.  He helped to make her radiant.

And to the end of his 86 years on earth, he loved her and she him.  Amazingly, in spite of the dementia, he never ceased to express love and familiarity to his bride.  Surely the way she so sacrificially loved him these last years facilitated their lifelong bond.

These two gifts are truly what helped to make the gospel real to me as a child growing up in this home. Our home was far from perfect, with varying amounts of sibling rivalry, financial pressures, and the exhausting demands of running a household of 9.  But, I truly never questioned the veracity of the Gospel, because through whatever came our way, our parents lead us back to the Cross.  We prayed. We searched scripture.  We believed that God was who He said He was, and we lived backwards of that truth. We confessed and we forgave.  And we forged ahead.

I will forever be grateful to have been blessed to have had the parents I had.   Though I will miss my father deeply, what he gave me through his life will continue to influence how I live my life.  And I will look forward to spending eternity with him when my days on life are done.

A memorial service to celebrate his life was held Dec. 26th at the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center in Balboa Park, San Diego, California.  The comments I made in honor of my dad can be read here.

Mardi Gras 1947.  Dating, but not married until August 16, 1948.

The Captain and his crew: six "gulls" and a "buoy" around 1966.  Mom made those matching dresses out of raw silk Papa brought home from one of his cruises.  She dyed the off-white silk red to make it appropriate for Christmas.  No explanation for the drapes.
Navy Ball, circa late 1970's
The original 7 with Queen Esther after the memorial service held Dec. 26, 2013

Around 2000: a sweet visit with Grandpa and Grandma at their home in Alexandria, VA.