My father-in-law, James Lynn Collins, died last night, at home, in his own bed, surrounded by family, at the age of 90. (If you have to go — and reliable evidence suggests that you do — there aren’t many better ways.) The top picture is him with his beloved daughter, who would become my wife; the bottom picture is him with his beloved grandson, Wesley; the middle picture speaks for itself, I think.
Two stories. First: Dad sang beautifully and played the guitar — in fact, he learned some of his first guitar chords from Hank Williams (yes, the Hank Williams)— and had in his mind a vast repertoire of Baptist hymnody. Two days ago, when he was fading, his son asked him who he hoped to see when he made his crossing. He smiled and murmured, “When by His grace I shall look on His face, That will be glory, be glory for me.”
Second: If you knew Dad, that picture of him with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, holding a shark, is a bit comical, because he was the kindest and gentlest of men. But he was also a big strong man, and he could get roused when his family were endangered. When he was in high school, for instance, there was a local bully whom everyone lived in terror of, and you can tell a lot about what kind of guy he was when you hear that people called him Cat Killer. But he made the mistake of picking on Dad’s younger brother Gene, and paid the price. And just a few years ago, at Dad’s seventieth high-school reunion, an old classmate whom he had never known very well came up to him and said, “Lynn Collins, I’ll never forget you. You’re the man that whooped Cat Killer.”