Lipscomb mourns loss of Collins

Friday, December 14, 2007

NASHVILLE -- Marshall County and Lipscomb University lost a great friend and leader Tuesday with the passing of former university president Willard Collins at age 92. Collins passed away in his Green Hills home of natural causes.

Collins was one of 17 children and, as a result, "He's kin to the Ledfords, Staceys and Chapman families, so many I shouldn't even start listing them," said Grover Collins, a self-described distant relative of the man from Collins Hollow Road, now known as Old Lake Road.

"He preached his first sermon at Church Street Church of Christ at a Wednesday night class and my parents were the first couple he ever married," the Marshall County Realtor recalled. "He also went to Bluff Springs Church of Christ which is also on New Lake Road."

Willard Collins' sermons were memorable because of his approach, the Realtor said.

"He told you what he was going to say, he said it and then he told you what he said," Grover Collins said.

Willard Collins' association with and leadership of Lipscomb influenced a good number of Marshall County residents' decisions on where they'd go to college.

Visitation will be held 10 a.m.-7 p.m., today, in the Ezell Center on the Lipscomb University campus in Green Hills, and noon to 2 p.m., Saturday, at Granny White Church of Christ, 3805 Granny White Pike. The funeral will be at 2 p.m., Saturday, at Granny White Church of Christ.

Collins played a vital role in the life and history of Lipscomb University for more than 70 years, as a student (1934-1936), administrator (1944-1977), and president (1977-1986).

Collins made a lasting impact on the institution not only with his administrative success, such as retiring the university's $3.2 million debt in the 1970s and orchestrating the sale of the A.M. Burton farm for $11.25 million, but also for his outgoing personality, sense of humor and presence which endeared him to students, faculty, staff and alumni.?

"I have a tremendous respect for Willard Collins. He became president at a very important time in Lipscomb's history. His legacy will be partially his steadfast love of and ministry to the church as well as his sense of connection with students. He stepped into the role of president with his unique personality and put his stamp on the university and on the church forever," said President L. Randolph Lowry.?"His last appearance on campus was this fall at convocation, where he connected with a new generation of students with his sense of humor and his engaging personality."?

A native of Lewisburg, Collins arrived as a freshman at Lipscomb in 1934. During his college days, he was elected bachelor of ugliness and president of the student board. After graduating from Lipscomb in 1936, he completed his bachelor's and master's degrees at Vanderbilt University. Collins returned to Lip-scomb in 1944 as assistant director of the Lipscomb Expansion Program, which was designed to prepare for an influx of students after the end of World War II.

In 1946, President Athens Clay Pullias named Collins vice president, a position he held for 31 years. During this time, the university expanded dramatically with the addition of numerous buildings including the Crisman Memorial Library, A.M. Burton Administration Building, Alumni Auditorium (now named for Collins), McQuiddy Gymnasium and Johnson Hall.

In 1977, Collins was appointed president and was instrumental in taking the university from a time of financial crisis to a time of financial stability. At that time Lipscomb found itself with a $3.2 million short-term debt in a period of high interest rates.

In January 1978, Collins announced the "Three Decisive Years" campaign, which raised $7 million in gifts, increased faculty salaries by $900,000 and paid off at least part of the debt. The "Golden Decade" campaign followed next and the university burned the note on the debt in 1982.

"He stepped in at a time when Lipscomb needed a bridge builder. He did so many things for Lipscomb at a critical time in its history," said Carl McKelvey, vice president of campus affairs in the Collins administration.

One of Collins' goals was always to get more and more people involved with Lipscomb. "I've always felt that if you put the need up, people will get involved and will give," Collins said.

In 1984, Lipscomb took another great stride forward with the sale of the A.M. Burton farm property in Green Hills, now the site of the multi-purpose development Burton Hills. Collins orchestrated the gift of the property upon the death of Mrs. A.M. Burton and the sale of the property, which resulted in $11.25 million for Lipscomb's endowment.

"In 1977, God raised up Willard Collins for leadership at a crucial time in Lipscomb's history. He rallied each constituency -- students, alumni, churches, donors, friends and the Nashville community -- to grow enrollment, enhance facilities, multiply the endowment, and solidify the school's future," said Steve Flatt, president of Lipscomb from 1997-2005.

Beyond his financial successes at Lipscomb, Collins was also known as the "students' president" on campus. An entire generation of students holds fond memories of Collins' spontaneously declaring, "It's a beautiful day!" in chapel. The phrase was a signal to the students that for that one day, all classes would be canceled, for no particular reason beyond the good weather.