FORT BRANCH – Thomas W. Collins, a retired sportswriter whose byline was familiar to readers of the Evansville Courier & Press for many years, died Tuesday at age 75 from complications associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.
He was a resident of Fort Branch, and is survived by his wife of 46 years, Diana; two children, Angela (Tim) Speedy and Chris (Kendra) Collins, and four grandchildren, Jordan Speedy, KayLiegh Collins, Asher Collins, and Brogan Collins.
Born in Hazelton, Tom graduated from Princeton High School in 1959 and then joined the U.S. Marine Corps, serving as a communications technician in Turkey and Germany, and was promoted to Corporal. After his discharge in 1963, Tom began working at Crane Naval Depot as a computer programmer and attended Oakland City College.
On a lark, he covered a sporting event for the Princeton newspaper, which lead to his hiring by Bill Fluty and Don Bernhardt at the Evansville Courier in 1968.
Tom covered high school sports but is best remembered for a 21-year stint on the University of Evansville beat, spanning the tragic (the basketball team’s plane crash in 1977) to the triumphant (NCAA tournament trips in basketball, baseball, and soccer).
After the plane crash, Fluty struggled to write a column about old friends, a new coach and the young players bursting with enthusiasm who were lost aboard the DC-3 – as well as another he could have lost.
Bob Hudson, the athletic business manager at UE, had called to ask if Tom could fly with the team to Middle Tennessee that Tuesday evening, Dec. 13, 1977. Fluty said no, “It’s only a three-hour drive to Murfreesboro. Tom can drive down Wednesday.”
After the crash, Tom always drove to Aces road games rather than fly, with at least one exception – a tournament in Hawaii.
Known as “TC” to workmates, he took pride in his writing. When he learned a new word, he made sure to find an opportunity to use it in one of his stories.
Tom was born Dec. 6, 1941, the day before Pearl Harbor. Perhaps because of that he had keen interest in World War II, especially the war in the Pacific.
He was a proud Marine. He always wore his watch on the bottom of his wrist. That was from his days listening to Russian naval communications while stationed in Turkey. As he copied code, he could quickly see his watch as he typed and recorded the time. He never broke that habit. A favorite story of Tom’s involved his chance meeting in 1959 with war hero turned actor Audie Murphy. Tom and some buddies were on weekend leave from California’s Camp Pendleton when Murphy, noticing them in uniform, bought them a drink at a hotel and invited them to a party at his Los Angeles home that night.
Tom loved all sports, even auto racing when others in the sports department at the time had little interest. He covered the Indy 500 for 13 years and also was a NASCAR fan.
He once sold a 1952 Mickey Mantle card, found in a shoebox at his mother’s home in Princeton, for $1200, and at the old Roberts Stadium would sail halftime stats (in the form of a paper airplane) from the press box high above the basketball court to friends in the bleachers below.
Among the honors Tom received before his 2007 retirement were the Virgil Sweet Service Award from the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association and the Distinguished Media Service Award from the Indiana High School Athletic Association.
Tom was a member of the Enon General Baptist Church in Princeton.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Kathern Eloise Morrison and Walter Cleveland Collins.
Funeral services will be on Saturday, Nov. 4, at 10 a.m. at Enon General Baptist Church in Princeton, with Pastor Tammy Scheller officiating. Visitation will be on Friday, Nov. 3, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Stodghill Funeral Home in Fort Branch, and again on Saturday, Nov. 4, at Enon General Baptist Church from 9 a.m. until service time. Military Honors Ceremony will be at Alexander Memorial Park in Evansville, with burial to follow. In Lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association and to the Gibson General Skilled Nursing Unit. Expressions of sympathy made at stodghillfuneralhome.com.