CARIBOU, Maine — Scores of people gathered Friday at the United Methodist Church in Caribou for the funeral of Don Frederick Collins, a man whose life accomplishments over 92 years included fighting in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, being the fourth generation of Collins to own and operate the family lumber business S.W. Collins, and serving as mayor of Caribou.
Policemen guided traffic as cars parked along Prospect Street and Bennett Drive, and those who knew Collins, the father of six children, including U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, walked into a church that was already packed roughly half an hour before the 11 a.m. service.
Rev. Timothy Wilcox welcomed guests and, after Don Collins’ daughters, Susan and Nancy, recited Psalms 121 and 23, respectively, and his son, Gregg (who co-owns S.W. Collins with his brother Sam) read 2 Timothy 4:6-8, the reverend delivered a sermon about the patriarch’s life and impact on the community.
“I only knew Don these last couple of years but the people here at this congregation knew him quite well,” said Wilcox. “He was known for many things: a beautiful voice, a good sense of humor and a love of anyone he met.”
The reverend said Collins was well-known as a “people person,” and had the ability to brighten any room he entered, and to leave any person feeling elevated after speaking with him.
“He was a man of dignity for all people around him,” said Wilcox. “For a person with the success he had, he could have been a person of some of the people but he chose, in his service, in the way he ran his business, and simply as a person, that he was to be a person for any person he might meet.”
The reverend concluded by saying that while “Don, as a human being is no longer here, he lives here and is a part of you, as a part of each memory that brings a smile to your face, through each way he made you a better person for knowing him.”
“As long as each of us has our breath,” Wilcox said, “then Don shall live.”
Sam Collins delivered a moving speech about his father’s life, beginning by saying that his father would not have wanted to be remembered for his “litany of accomplishments.”
“He was a rare breed with the purest intentions,” said Sam Collins. “He sought higher offices, not for self-aggrandizement, but simply because he loved people. Dad had the skills, time, and ability to help others, so he felt the obligation to do so.”
He said that when his father met his mother Patricia, he told her on one of their first dates that the boots he was wearing were the same ones he’d worn when jumping out of planes in World War II.
“You can imagine mom’s surprise when his parents started talking about his service as an infantryman,” Sam Collins said, eliciting laughter from guests.
“Ironically,” he added, “Dad was dreadfully afraid of heights.”
He shared the story of how his father convinced his mother, a New York native, to move to Caribou after they were married.
“Mom complained that Caribou was so far away from everything,” the son said. “Always a County boy, Dad responded, ‘Patsy, everything else is so far away from Caribou.’”
He compared his father to Dr. Suess, in that they both believed “a person is a person, no matter how small.”
“Everyone respected Dad because he gave respect to everyone, regardless of their station in life,” Sam Collins said. “Multiple people have communicated to me, ‘I have yet to meet a person that did not like Don Collins.’”
“Our family was very lucky to have a kind and caring Dad,” he continued, “and I’m especially lucky because I got to work with Dad.”
Sam Collins had to pause for a moment to gather himself, causing others in the audience to dab at their eyes.
“And visit him most days when he came to the store,” he continued. “For most of my life, I got to test his grip with a handshake, even as recently as a couple years ago.”
When his father particularly enjoyed a meal or music, Sam Collins said he would exclaim, “God, that was good.”
“I would say to you Dad,” Sam Collins concluded, “about your life: God, that was good. And you are the best.”
Following that eulogy, Margaret Cyr performed Don Collins’ favorite musical piece “Panis Angelicus,” and his grandchildren sang “You Raise Me Up.”
Taps then were played as U.S., state, and military flags were held up by military personnel. All then stood and sang, “God Bless America” before departing.
Across the state, flags also flew at half staff as directed by Gov. Paul LePage in honor of Donald F. Collins.
Collins, who was born in Caribou on Nov. 30, 1925, is survived by his wife, Patricia, and children Susan, Nancy, Gregg, Sam and Michael Collins and Kathleen Wiesendanger, 11 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
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