The thing with Richard is that I knew him as a coworker and colleague and friend and sometimes forgot his icon status. Once, in Oshkosh, he and I were walking to our table for dinner in a local restaurant and I became aware that people were whispering and nodding in our direction. It made me uncomfortable, until I heard someone say, “That’s Richard Collins,” and I felt like a celebrity.
Another time I was talking about something that had happened at FLYING to a pilot friend. I interrupted my story to ask, “Do you know Richard Collins?” My friend, somewhat annoyed, said, “Pat, do you understand that the people you casually hang out with are my heroes?” I needed to be reminded of that.
My favorite memory of Richard involves a construction trailer, a razor blade and simulated bombs. Let me explain. One year, back in the early 1980s, FLYING was in charge of producing a daily newsletter during EAA AirVenture. In those days, before desktop publishing, you created a page of live type which was called “camera-ready” and the printer would photograph the page to make a piece of film and then print it.
It was the end of a long day and we were about to take our work to the local printer, right on deadline, when one of us spotted a typo. A word had an e instead of an i. Rather than retyping the entire paragraph, or even the entire page, Richard said he would fix it. He cut out a replacement i with a razor blade and was about to delicately paste it on top of the incorrect e when the air show began. It was a World War II-themed show that day and started with simulated bombs being dropped on Wittman Field. The bombs were so close to our trailer, our press room right on the flightline, that each bomb shook the trailer.
And yet Richard, his hand as steady as a surgeon’s, speared that skinny little i with the razor blade and, as the trailer rocked with each successive blast, he masterfully positioned the letter, pasted it down, and corrected the word. He kept us on deadline. It was perfect. “I can’t believe you did that,” I said. He just smiled.
Richard had a special name for me. Once during a FLYING staff meeting, he called me Sweetpea. I honestly didn’t hear him, so I said, “What did you call me?” The air got tense as people in the meeting thought I was getting all feministy on Richard by objecting to the name. Richard said boldly, “I called you Sweetpea. Do I have your permission to do that?” I answered, “You and you alone have permission to call me Sweetpea.” And he did, often in public, often at tradeshows, often to the puzzlement of those present. It even surprises me how I never tired of that joke. And on one of the few dark days of my life, my phone rang and I answered it only to hear, “It’s me, Sweetpea.”
I am comforted by the thought that he and Ann are now reunited. They really were one of those couples where two halves made a whole. Ann was a superb host and cook, and you never left their house hungry. One year, right before Christmas, I drove from New York City to their home in Princeton, New Jersey, for a dinner party. Ann gave me this huge tin of her chocolate chip cookies to take home and there it sat on the passenger seat, me full, but craving one of Ann’s cookies. I opened the tin to eat one, then another, then another, then another. I couldn’t stop. It was Christmas crack. I finally had to throw the tin onto the back seat where I could no longer reach it while driving. I’m glad Richard and Ann are together again.
When Richard asked me to copyedit his latest two books, I was honored. It boosted my ego to think of myself as Richard Collins’s editor. It seems a cliché to say that I was honored to call him a friend as well, but it’s true, and I am. I know he is an icon and a legend to many, but to me he was a friend and I miss him already.