Working with an icon for over 40 years

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.

Cirrus article in Flying
As a longtime editor at FLYING magazine, Collins had legions of fans.

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 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 with a razor blade and was about to delicately paste it on top of the incorrect 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 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.

Collins and Cook on Concorde
Oshkosh was where Collins was in his element, especially when the Concorde touched down in 1985.

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.

6 Comments

  • I had the rare privilege of hearing both Richard Collins and Gordon Baxter speak on the same billing at our airport fly-in banquet in 1995. Another aviation icon has left us.

  • Patricia,

    Thank you for this thoughtful look back at your time spent supporting Richard Collins. I still use many of the Flying articles written by him during the 70s and 80’s as a resource for decisions on airplanes. This morning, I purchased a 1977 Piper Archer. It’s been a while since I’ve owned my own, and today was the day. Of course, I read the pilot reports from the early Flying magazine files available on Google books as my primary resource… I thought of him as a mentor without ever meeting him. I am sure others feel the same way.. I will truly miss him…..

  • I never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Collins but he taught me through his writing and videos. One year at Christmas time my wife wrote him and asked if she could purchase an autographed picture as a gift for me. I think he was probably too modest for that. He took the time to send a handwritten card encouraging me to continue in my aviation learning. I will always treasure that card and be motivated to make each flight better than the last.

  • I started flying in 1971 when I moved to Alaska. Flying Mag and Richard Collins have been a steady reading diet for me. At 88 I am still flying (a member of UFO) and reading “Flying”.

    Thanks, Mr Collin, for sharing your knowledge and experiences with all of us!

  • Richard Collins to me was the premier aviation writer from the 70’s to today .. bar none.

    I learned to fly back in the 70’s and always had a subscription to Flying magazine and later AOPA magazine, which of course many of his articles would be the centerpiece.

    He was easy to read, always entertaining and made you feel like you were in the right seat. And foremost, almost everything he wrote had a point that would make you a safer and better pilot.

    He was one of the last great icons left from the 60’s and 70’s and there were some great ones. Bill Kershner, Gordon Baxter and a few more. All were great people and all are missed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *