Florida’s Former First Lady Dies

December 1, 2009, Tallahasse Democrat

Mary Call Darby Collins remembered as a ‘great Floridian’

By Gerald Ensley
and Angeline J. Taylor

Mary Call Darby Collins, descendant of one Florida governor and widow of another, died Sunday after a long illness.

Collins, 98, is remembered for her great sense of humor, caring ways and love of Florida.

“She defined the word ‘lady,’ ” said former Sen. Bob Graham. “She was a great Floridian.”

Collins was the great granddaughter of Richard Keith Call, an officer in Andrew Jackson’s army who served two terms as a Florida territorial governor. She was married for 59 years to Gov. LeRoy Collins — who served from 1955-1961. He died in 1991.

“She was as pleasant as she could be,” former Gov. Reubin Askew said. “She was very supportive (to Gov. Collins) but offered her own opinion.”

Mary Call Collins was renowned for her charm and graciousness as a Florida First Lady. She was active in historic preservation causes, including saving the Union Bank and her ancestral home, The Grove.

Gov. Charlie Crist called the former first lady a “beloved leader” who “stood by the side of principled leader LeRoy Collins.”

“She offered both support and advice during some of the most turbulent times in our state’s history,” Crist said.

Collins lived in The Grove up until her death. The home was built by Richard Keith Call in the 1820s and is adjacent to the Florida Governor’s Mansion. It passed through several generations of the family before then-state Sen. LeRoy Collins and Mary Call Collins moved into it in 1942.

The home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Several years ago, Mary Call Collins deeded the home and its 10 acres to the state, with the provision she could live there until her death. The state eventually hopes to turn the home into a museum.

Born in New York on Sept. 11, 1911, Mary Call Darby moved to Tallahassee as a young child. She graduated from Leon High and Florida State College for Women.

In 1932, she married fellow Leon High classmate LeRoy Collins, embarking on a long career as a politician’s wife. Collins served in the Florida House and Senate before being elected governor. He became famous for opposing racial segregation as Florida’s governor and was tapped as the first Director of the Community Relations Service after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Daughter Mary Call Proctor said the family was together through the Thanksgiving weekend leading up to her mother’s death.

“She had just a wonderful sense of life,” Proctor said. “She was proud of Florida. She felt we should all do our part.”

Daughter Jane Aurrell echoed her sister’s sentiments.

“She had a long and full life,” Aurrell said. “Mother had (nearly) 20 more years than daddy. She had a chance to meet and know all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We’re just all so grateful for her part in our lives.”

Collins is survived by her four children: LeRoy Collins Jr.; Jane Aurrell; Mary Call Proctor and Darby Collins; 12 grandchildren and her 23 great-grandchildren.

There will be a private burial service at the family cemetery. Today, between 4 p.m.-6 p.m. friends will be welcomed at The Grove. In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory may be made to St. John’s Episcopal Church, the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library or Big Bend Hospice.

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