Dignitaries and common-folk pay respects to a Tampa statesman
By Chris Ingram
An over-flow crowd of people from all walks of life attended funeral services for LeRoy Collins, Jr. at Saint Andrews Episcopal Church in Tampa today.
Dignitaries attending the service included Governor Charlie Crist, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, former Governor Bob Martinez, and former Congressman Mike Bilirakis.
But of more significance than those dignitaries in attendance were the “common” people there who knew what kind of man LeRoy Collins was. Those paying honor to the admiral represented a diverse crowd of folks black and white, Democrat and Republican, military men and women, and civilians from all walks of life.
In his reflections, Brigadier General Forrest “Ted” Gay, USA, spoke of Admiral Collins’ love of country, service and family. He recounted the broad depth of character of the man those who attended the service came to celebrate; Gay reflected on the admiral’s integrity, compassion, and good humor as well as his penchant for living life at its fullest as a piano player, athlete, serviceman, and son of God who was active in his church and who treated everyone he met with dignity, honor, and respect. Gay also referred to Collins’ nickname at the Naval Academy – “Crazy Legs” and noted we shouldn’t be surprised to know a man with such a nickname first jumped out of an airplane at the ripe-old-age of seventy.
That reflection reminded me of my days working on the admiral’s long-shot U.S. Senate campaign in 2006. I had just boarded a 7:00 a.m. flight to Washington to attend to some non-campaign related business when my cell phone rang. It was the admiral’s wife Jane calling.
Mrs. Collins wanted to know if “I knew” about this crazy idea of having the admiral jump out of a plane again as some sort of campaign “stunt.” Darned right I knew, but I played a little dumb as Mrs. Collins insisted this was a stupid idea, and that she certainly figured I “shared her concerns” that the admiral had no business jumping out of a plane.
Despite his previous jump a few years earlier, Mrs. Collins had a deep fear of all things flying (and jumping) related as she had nearly lost her husband in a plane crash decades earlier.
Needless to say, while Admiral Collins was a two-star Rear Admiral in the Navy with a commanding presence, he had a three-star admiral to answer to at home. He didn’t jump again.
Mrs. Collins and the rest of the Collins family’s loss came too soon and unexpectedly — though not through any reckless behavior (like jumping out of an airplane), but by riding his bicycle to go row at the University of Tampa.
His loss is felt across our state today by Floridians who knew him, as well as those who don’t.
Collins was the type of man they just don’t make anymore. His honesty, sincerity, and concern for people made him a statesman. Unfortunately in a world where voters prefer someone who tells them what they want to hear, versus what they need to hear, Admiral Collins lost his race for the U.S. Senate. In as much as he was a statesman, he was a terrible politician as he preferred not to engage in typical campaign gimmicks and endless fundraising phone calls which serve as a requirement for most candidates to be successful.
After the campaign, I developed a friendship with the admiral, Mrs. Collins, and the family. A few years ago I was visiting Jane and the admiral at their home when the admiral left the room to take a phone call. In his absence, Mrs. Collins shared with me, “The admiral likes you so much. He really does.” Apparently though this was not for my campaign advice and political expertise, as she quickly added with a laugh, “I think it’s because you always call him ‘Admiral.’”
I told her I would have preferred to have started calling him “Senator,” but the voters had other ideas.
Most importantly though, Admiral Collins will forever remain in my mind, and the minds of those who knew him, as “friend.”
And so today, we say goodbye to Admiral LeRoy Collins, Jr.
So long friend…
Chris Ingram is the president and founder of 411 Communications a corporate and political communications firm, and publisher of www.IrreverentView.com. Ingram is a frequent pundit on Fox News and CNN, and has written opinion columns for the Washington Times, UPI, Front Page Florida, and National Review online. E-mail him at: Chris@IrreverentView.com.
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