Robert E. Collins, executive vice president of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association from its inception until his retirement in March 1988, died Oct. 3 at his home in Bartlett, Tenn. He was 83.
Collins played a key role in the growth and development of the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show Exhibit, which grew to become one of the largest and most successful agricultural trade shows in the South.
“Bob was a hard worker who had the interests of cotton ginners in mind,” said Lee Todd, who succeeded Collins as executive vice president of SCGA.
“He wanted the SCGA on a very sound, financial basis so it could be of service to its members,” said Todd, who retired in 2003.
One way to accomplish that was through income from the farm show, noted Todd. “Bob recognized this. Even though people questioned him about it from time to time, he never wavered from his conviction. That philosophy has made SCGA the most financially sound association of all the ginner associations.”
Collins attended Tillar High School in Tillar, Ark., and was working on a liberal arts education at the College of the Ozarks when World War II broke out. During the war, he served with the Eighth Air Force. When the war ended, he got a job in public relations for Crossett Industries, a paper mill, sawmill and chemical plant in Crossett, Ark.
There, he became smitten with a young lady, the former Flo Ross. He had no way of being introduced to the young woman, however, so he relied on his public relations connections and perhaps a touch of skullduggery. “I arranged to have her picture made for a publication,” Collins said in a 2002 interview. “We met that way.”
The Collinses moved to Memphis in the late 1950s for Bob to serve as public relations director of the American Cotton Shippers Association. He also worked for a time as executive director of the Foundation for World Literacy.
While in Memphis, he became a good friend and chess rival of Seton Ross, longtime editor of Cotton Grower magazine who recommended him for the job as head of the Arkansas/Missouri Cotton Ginners Association, which later became the SCGA.
Collins got the job in early 1963 and immediately had to organize the gin show, which was in March. After the show, Collins started working on consolidating state ginner associations in the Mid-South.
One method Collins used to pull the groups together was to arrange tours of the cotton markets of Europe. His efforts paid off. First Louisiana joined, then Mississippi. By 1967, a new organization called the SCGA was formed. Tennessee joined in 1971.
In 1986, Flo succumbed to cancer. A year later, Bob would meet his second wife while attending the Church of the River in Memphis, “I liked his sense of humor,” said Susan, a nurse at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, when asked what she saw in Collins. “I was in the fellowship hall after church, and he came up to me and asked me if I wanted to go sailing. I said, ‘Sure, if I can take a chaperone.’ I had never seen him before.
“A week or two later, he walked up to me in church and said, ‘I've been thinking, if you need a chaperone, I really don't want to go sailing.’ It took me back.”
Over time, however, they developed a strong relationship, and Susan eventually took him up on the sailing trip, unchaperoned. They were married in 1988.
Collins' favorite pastime was reading, which was slowed by Alzheimer's disease, diagnosed in 2001. During the 2002 interview, Collins didn't see the disease as a curse, rather as one of the inevitable consequences of having lived a long life. “I'm 81 years old and I don't have many years left, so I don't have to worry about it,” he said.
Collins is survived by his wife, Susan, and two daughters Kathy Rothman of Tallahassee, Fla., and Kymberly Ceres of Lafayette, La; two step-daughters, Valerie Jordan of Lancaster, Pa., and Tammy Wampler of Bartlett, Tenn.; a sister, Jayne C. Ladd of Tillar, Ark., and three grandchildren.