We gather this afternoon to remember and celebrate the life of Billy D. Collins. Bill died on January 1st 2017. He was suffering from cancer. He was 62 years old.
Bill was born on March 9, 1954 in LaHarpe, IL the son of Elmer Elsworth “Bill” and Josephine Ruth Lorton Collins. He was a 1972 graduate of the LaHarpe High School.
On May 17, 1975 he married Leslie Fisher in Wapello, IA. They had three children two sons, Aaron Collins of South Daytona, FL and Bradley (Leslie Johnson) Collins of Springfield, IL, one daughter, Kathryn (Joshua) Bundy of LaHarpe. He and Leslie later divorced
Bill is also survived by one step-daughter, Stacey Watson of Polk City, IA, eight grandchildren, one brother, Terry (Barbara) Collins of Macomb, IL, and one sister, Margo (Phil) Gray of Chillicothe, IL.
He was preceded in death by his parents.
Today we want to celebrate the perspective that we get from Jesus Christ. He said,”I am the Resurrection and the life, He who believes in me, will live even though he dies.” (John 11)
The apostle Paul wrote,
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 5 He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.
Paul appeals to eyewitnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus. Later in that same passage Paul talked about the implication of the resurrection of Jesus
It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 43 Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. 44 They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.
The point of all of this is that we truly can celebrate today because this is NOT all there is. For those who have put their trust in Christ death in this world is simply the end of the beginning. Without the resurrection of Jesus we would either despair (because life would basically be worthless) or we would have to invent something to help us stay afloat.
Since the Lord is our strength and our hope, will you pray with me?
Father, we turn to you today and ask you to help us as we remember and grieve. There are questions, hurts, regrets and many cherished memories. We need you to help us sort all of this out. Remind us of that hope that rests in You. We ask this in Jesus name. Amen.
Bill Collins was a guy you liked to be around. He was upbeat, kind, funny, and had a wonderful ability to laugh at himself. He was good at puns, one-liners and gallows humor. You always felt better after you spent time with him. It is accurate to say that he was a people person. He was a first class salesman in all the good ways.
Bill was the apple of his mom’s eye. He was the child they had later in life. As sometimes happens . . . he may have been a little spoiled because of that.
Bill went to the Union Church in the younger days. Back when he was in Jr. High he was selected to be a wiseman in the Union Church Christmas play. He was chosen along with Steve Beaver and Steve Comstock (in hindsight that may not have been the best combination). I am told that these three boys used to torment their teacher, Myrtle Comstock (Steve Comstock’s Grandmother). That night the boys were stashed in a Sunday School room until their cue. All they had to do was walk out of the room and point at the star as the spotlight focused on them. As the story goes, Steve Comstock had smuggled in a six pack of soda (which was contraband in the church in those days). While the play was taking place and they were waiting for their cue, the boys guzzled the soda. Because they were “getting away with something” they started to giggle and couldn’t stop. Their cue came and out came the wisemen laughing hysterically!
Bill and Don Little used to like to go to Pags pizza where you could have all the spaghetti you could eat for $2.00. Then they would sit outside the drive-in movie theater and listen to the movie. On more than one occasion they were out with Rob Blythe and Randy Pollmeier. They would race home in their cars. Bill used to like to bomb the strip with his 73 Plymouth Road Runner which he was very proud of. He loved to play his acoustic guitar. He used to write his own songs. He even played in a band for a little while with some of the guys. He was a big fan at the time of Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young).
Bill had a huge record collection and loved music. He could sit for hours listening to his albums.
Bill got involved in a vibrant youth ministry called Reach Out here in La Harpe. He professed faith in Christ during that time.
He made some great friends. He used to love to play RISK with Steve Beaver and Wes Kendall. Steve and Bill would gang up on Wes because Wes played the game with great intensity.
Bill and Wes had lots of fun together. Once Bill had Wes laughing so hard he had to pull over on the highway.
Bill got married and had his three children. He wanted to be a good dad. Once his dad came to visit Aaron but his dad had been drinking. Bill stood up to his dad and told him he couldn’t see him in that condition. His dad stopped drinking after that. For someone who liked to please people as much as Bill did, that was quite a moment.
Bill and Aaron admittedly did not have a lot in common. I’m sure Bill enjoyed watching his son in Swing Choir and admired his acting ability. Aaron cherishes watching his dad relate to his children. He enjoyed seeing “vacation dad” and the kids loved him. They were looking forward to learning more about cars from Grandpa Bill.
Bradley painted a picture of his dad with words that I will just read as is,
It is July, 1993. I am sitting in the passenger seat of a late 1980’s Buick Park Avenue. My father is driving us to the movie theater in Burlington, Iowa. This is the day we finally get to see Jurassic Park.
A song comes on the radio. My father looks at me. “Name the artist and the song.” He said. “Heart of Gold, by Neil Young.” I replied. My father breaks into a knowing smile.
We arrive at the theater and enjoy the grand spectacle of Steven Spielberg at the peak of his blockbuster abilities. On the drive home, we discuss the movie and debate whether we agree with the changes from Michael Crichton’s source material. My father drops me back at my mother’s and drives away.
It is a tiny fraction of time. And yet, to me, that moment was everything. In sharing an old rock song, in sharing a movie and a car ride, my father and I were as close as we would ever be.
I will remember the things he loved. Music, books, movies, history and cars.
He loved music. Neil Young, the Eagles, Journey, Led Zeppelin, Three Dog Night, Styx, Foreigner, Boston, Yes, Jackson Browne, the Doobie Brothers, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, ZZ Top, and especially Crosby, Stills and Nash.
He loved books. Robert Ludlum, Jack Higgins, Clive Cussler, Larry Bond, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Arthur C. Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut, and especially Michael Crichton.
He loved taking us to see blockbuster movies. Jurassic Park, The Lion King, Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Fugitive, Cliffhanger, Groundhog Day, and especially the Star Trek series.
He loved taking us on historical adventures. The Mark Twain Caves, Lincoln’s New Salem, the Herbert Hoover Museum, Historic Nauvoo, the Lock and Dam in Keokuk, Snake Alley in Burlington, The American Gothic house in Eldon, and Historic Fort Madison.
Perhaps more than anything, my father loved cars. He loved looking at cars, talking about cars, driving cars, buying cars, selling cars, and especially dreaming about cars.
My father and I did not always maintain the best relationship. However, I am grateful for the good memories he gave me. I am grateful that we shared a love of music. I am grateful he gave me books, I am grateful he took us to see movies and I am grateful he helped us to appreciate history.
Finally, I leave you with a simple task to help carry on his memory. Please set aside some time and listen to Suite Judy Blue Eyes by Crosby, Stills & Nash. He loved that song. Whenever it comes on the radio, I think of him. Maybe, in attaching his memory to this beautiful piece of music, we will all be able to remember him a bit better. I hope so.
Today, I will be listening to my father’s favorite artists and songs and enjoying good memories. I can think of nothing that would make him happier.
Bill and Katie had their own special memory. Their Sunday morning ritual on weekends when they were together was always the same. They sat at the kitchen table, Bill read the newspaper while Katie read the comics. He would have a cup of coffee and pour one for her to pretend to drink. It was an adult like moment they were able to share together.
Stacy remembers a vacation together to the House On the Rock. He went as a child, and talked about his memories the whole way there. They had great fun. They were like little kids trying to take it all in. It was a chance to share something from Bill’s childhood while at the same time making their own unique memories.
Bill had his regrets. He wished he had been closer with his kids. He wished he had made many decisions differently. There was a loneliness in Bill that I suspect developed because of these regrets. To his credit, Bill tried to make amends to those who were hurt by his choices. He confessed his wrongs and sought forgiveness. You have to admire a man like that.
Bill loved his grandchildren. It was like his chance to shower love on his own kids by loving their children. The last time I saw Bill was out at the ball diamonds where he came to watch the Grandkids play ball.
Bill Collins had the ability to talk with anyone. He had a great memory for names, details, and he always remembered what he sold you the last time. This made him good at selling cars. Bill worked at several different dealerships. He worked at Shottenkirk for a number of years and the last decade he worked for Vaughn Automotive in Ottumwa. He was an avid car enthusiast and especially loved Corvettes. He loved selling them to people because he felt that when you drive a corvette you just feel successful in life.
Bill served as the “work dad” for many of his co-workers. He loved teaching others what he had learned over the years about people, cars, selling, and life.
As I understand it, Bill was a political liberal, but not obnoxious kind. He had his belief and he was content to let you have your beliefs. He was happy to talk politics but was wasn’t one to fight about it.
This last year Bill made it to Mesa Arizona to attend the spring training of the Chicago Cubs. Even with his cancer, Bill was able to enjoy seeing the Cubs win the World Series, which for a Cub fan was a dream come true.
It’s was a wild year for Bill, the trial of battling cancer, the angst of Donald Trump winning the Presidential election and the elation of a Cubs World Championship. He must have been an emotional wreck!
When Bill was diagnosed with cancer last year the Ottumwa community rallied around him. They called him a “Corvette of a human being” and they had a benefit to raise money for his treatments last September 3rd. Bill remained positive and grateful throughout his ordeal. Even in the time of disability he felt he had received an amazing grace. Even with all the mistakes he made during the course of his life, God had still used him to bring people together. I hope, in those hours, Bill realized that he had been a blessing to many. I suspect gratitude welled up and overflowed.
Bill Collins made friends wherever he went because he was willing to see people and to BE a friend. His death leaves us with only the fingerprints that he left on our lives.
As good and decent a man as Bill Collins was it seems heartbreaking that he died at this age (the older I get the younger 62 seems.) It is easy for us to think that this isn’t “fair”. But that is to think like those who do not know about Christ.
In 1 Thessalonians 4 in the New Testament the apostle Paul wrote,
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
According to the Bible, two things are true: Jesus did not stay dead and He is coming back. And, those who have embraced Jesus as their King and rescuer, do not stay dead either. They will go to be with him when they die and then they will return when the Lord comes back. In other words: this is not the end of the story of Billy Collins.
As a young person, Bill heard the gospel plainly. He heard that we had turned away from the Lord and were powerless to save ourselves. He learned that Jesus was God in human form and He came to earth to rescue us. He took the punishment for our rebellion and was executed in our place. We know this is true because Jesus rose from the dead. He told us the debt was satisfied, and now, if would trust Him (instead of ourselves), we would become a part of God’s family and would live even though we died. We could stand before God with a record that said we were without sin.
He learned that God promised that He would give His Spirit to all who would come to Him. This Spirit would guide us into truth, comfort us, grant us peace, pray for us and equip us to serve God in the way God created us to be.
Bill heard these things and He responded. He asked the Lord to be his Savior and his Lord. Like all of us, at times, that faith wavered. Sometimes it may have even been ignored. Bill struggled like so many of us, between wanting to be liked by others and being faithful before the Lord. But the Bible tells us that once we come to him, He will never let us go. Like a parent, God never gives up on his children.
In his letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote,
when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In other words, even though we are sad today because someone who breathed life into our world is no longer here, this is not a true loss. It only seems that way.
I believe Billy Collins is more alive today than he has ever been. Today he has discovered that there is something far greater than having a Corvette of your own. There is a song that is better than those of Crosby, Stills, Nash and (sometimes) Young. Life has exploded into something more wonderful than a mind can imagine. There is a laughter that springs from joy and wonder that is often mixed with tears of gratitude. Bill Collins, I believe, has experienced first-hand the wonder of forgiveness and the beauty of new life. We may talk about our loss, but Bill . . . Bill views it very differently. We say he died before his time. But I suspect Bill would say he has at last found the life he longed for.
For us the pause button has been pushed on our relationship with Bill. But for those who run to Jesus; for those who have also truly put their hope and trust in Him, there is a day when we will push “play” once again. The laughter and the fun will have given way to the superior joy of those who have been redeemed.
Until that day we are left to learn some things from Bill:
- It is always a good day when you can laugh
- We can disagree on lots of things but we don’t have to be disagreeable
- If you are kind to others, most of the time you will get kindness in return
- When you remember a person’s name and story as a salesman, most of the work is already done.
- We all make mistakes; the challenge is to learn from them so you don’t keep repeating them.
- It is always good not to take yourself too seriously. It makes you competitive, tense, and irritable. Look at others instead of focusing on yourself. It’s a lot more fun.
- The most important decision in life is where you are going to put your trust. That choice will determine whether death is defeat or victory.
- You don’t have to do big things to have a big impact . . .you just need to care.
Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we thank you for the life of Billy Collins. Thank you for his spirit, his laugh, his friendship, and his faith. Lord, welcome Bill into your presence because of the work of Jesus on His behalf and ours. Help us not to grieve as those who have no hope. Father keep Bill’s memory alive for his children and his grandchildren through the stories told over and over again. We ask this in the name of our Savior, our Lord, our Life, and our hope. Amen.
 Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013), 1 Co 15:3–8.