The Eulogy for John Byron Collins II
“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children, to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived — this is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
John Byron Collins II, or BI as we was known to most, “Collins” to a few — was born on August 22, 1944 in Passaic General Hospital. His father, the original John Byron Collins was from Kentucky and had come to New Jersey where he had heard the streets were paved with gold. BI’s father found work at White Castle, which is where he met his wife, BI’s mother, Dorothy Finkel who would come there with friends.
They were married in 1942 and shortly afterwards BI’s sister Betty Jean was born. BI’s father was drafted into the army, and Dorothy and Betty Jean followed him to the west coast where he was originally stationed. When he was sent off to fight in the war in the Pacific Theater, Dorothy returned with Betty Jean to live with her parents back in New Jersey in Clifton. Unbeknownst to Dorothy, she was pregnant with her son BI when she made the move, and so it came to be that BI was born while his father was off at war.
BI’s father rose to the rank of sergeant before getting demoted for some kind of incident involving misappropriated ice cream, which provides some indication of where BI got his rebellious spirit. During the rest of his service time BI’s father worked as a cook, spending time in Guadalcanal, where he contracted Malaria.
When he finally returned from the war, BI was already nearly two. The family moved into the Clifton Veterans Homes before moving to Riverview Drive in Totowa, where BI started kindergarten. It is said that he had to be dragged in the door every day because he didn’t care much for the conformity and the need to sit still that was required in school.
The enjoyment of superlative ways of transportation was always a theme throughout BI’s life, and the first story in this regard is the horse his father bought the family at Christmas time, hiding it out in the garage until Christmas morning. His mother wasn’t particularly pleased with this acquisition, but BI remembered the excitement of riding with his father and sister in a horse drawn carriage up and down Route 46 on Christmas day.
When BI was in the 4th grade the family moved to Wykoff, and then in sixth grade they moved again to Parsippany. It was around this time that BI acquired what would be the first of his own newest, coolest and fastest rides, receiving a Schwinn Radio Bike for Christmas which, with the radio built right into the bike made it the envy of every kid. On his very first ride that morning BI managed to push it to the furthest limits of speed, leading to a crash that resulted in permanently breaking the radio.
In his senior year BI’s mother told him if he got good grades she would get him any car he desired. He was by nature quite intelligent, so it wasn’t that hard for him to pull off the good grades. As his reward he chose the fastest car around, a Pontiac 409 fastback that he named “Deathtrap.” He began racing at the Englishtown raceway, where he managed to break the New Jersey record for the fastest speed for a quarter mile, a fact of which he would always take great proud.
It was during his senior year at a party that BI first met a girl from Roseland named Marcie, bringing her home to meet the family at Christmas. Sometime later that year BI and Marcie got engaged, though it would take another five years before they would get married.
After graduating from Parsippany High in 1962, BI’s good grades got him into Susquehanna College near Pittsburg. Later he would spend some time closer to home at Lehigh. Like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” BI had high ambitions for what he would do in this world, having already drawn the attention of major corporations like Esso Oil. But with just a semester left before graduating, his mother called to tell him that his father was leaving her and going back to Kentucky.
With his father gone, the family trucking business that had been passed down on his mother’s side was in need of someone to run it, and so the job fell to BI. His mother needed him, so like George Bailey he set aside his ambitions to come back home to take over the reigns of the business which had fallen into debt and was in danger of going under. BI never did get to graduate college; he spent the rest of his work life running the trucking business, leading it into some very good times, and guiding it through some lean times as well.
BI and Marcie were married in October of 1967 at the Roseland Methodist Church. They lived first in Passaic Park where BI III was born in 1968, before moving to Brookside Avenue in Caldwell.
In 1971, the year Scott was born, the opportunity presented itself to move in with Marcie’s parents in the big family homestead at 114 Eagle Rock Avenue in Roseland.
From the beginning of their relationship Marcie’s big family had quickly taken BI into their hearts. Back while they were dating, BI would show up at the house to take a dressed up Marcie out on a date, but Marcie would grow irritable waiting around for the date to begin, because Marcie’s mom and BI hit it off so well that he would hang around for hours with her drinking coffee, yapping and playing scrabble. He enjoyed the company of Marcie’s brother Jim and especially his her brother Joe, who together would become life long buddies — Heckle and Jeckle they called them.
So BI and Marcie and the boys moved into the old Booth homestead with Marcie’s parents, where it became all the more the center of the extended family’s gatherings, as well as a home for wayward souls. If someone was going through a rough patch and needed a place to stay to ride out the rough waters, they could count on a welcome at 114 Eagle Rock Avenue. BI’s mother moved in at one point.
In large part because of BI, It was also a place where a whole lot of fun happened. BI, Jr. remembers being drawn to the kitchen by the sound of loud pops, where to his delight he found his father and his uncle Joey acting out scenes from the movie “Bite the Bullet,” shooting cap guns at each other from behind overturned tables.
Many weekends would become occasions for big Saturday night parties thrown on the spur of the moment by BI. The parties were enjoyed by old and young alike. The emerging council of cousins particularly enjoyed the fun that a party thrown by Uncle BI would bring. Kathy and Cindy remember the anticipation of a possible phone call from Uncle BI to their parents announcing a last minute Saturday party. If the call would come through, they knew they were in for a good weekend.
If BI had been blessed by a recent financial windfall, he was likely to throw a party on a particularly grand scale like the time he brought home buckets full of lobsters, bushels of corn on the cob and multiple kegs of beer. For the kids he might bring a bag of new toys for them to dive into. He was never boastful about his generosity; he would just quietly sit in one place, enjoying the sight of the people he loved having a good time, and the company of a steady stream of family members who would come to sit beside him.
The adults would gather around the big table to talk and tell jokes, and when the children grew old enough to sit around the table to share in all the fun the adults were having, it was for them a truly wonderful thing. And not only fun: Debbie remembers how good it felt when, as a girl of 14 her Uncle BI would spend time with her, expressing real interest in the things she was thinking about at the time.
Scott and BI’s friends still talk about the fun that was had at the parties held in their home. And there was fun outside the home as well: there are memories of trips BI would take the children to things as a Cosmos Soccer Game.
Though they loved one another, with their fiery personalities BI and Marcie found it hard to live together, and so eventually BI moved out of the house to live on his own in Ridgefield Park. He would, however still come around on weekends to help initiate the fun. When Marcie finally sold 114 Eagle Rock Avenue to move into a smaller, more reasonably sized house at 26 Stone Gate Drive in Roseland, BI was heartbroken to lose the setting of so many happy memories. But family gatherings continued at Marcie’s new house.
BI had a fire and fierceness that could be on display at times managing his big, burly employees at the Trucking business. But the people who worked for BI respected him; they knew that he cared for them. In the times of recession, it killed BI to have to let people go. He was respected around the world in the trucking community.
BI Jr. and Scott wanted to express a particular thanks to Kathy and Harold Zayas, and their daughter Katey for their love and friendship over the years.
BI lived his life fully, passionately. He loved his fast cars and his off road motorcycles, and pushing the limits of expectation. He was often successful, and but wasn’t afraid to fail, like the time in 1976 when along with Vookie and Walter, their hair-brained idea to make a lot of money off the crowds that would flock to see the Big Ships in the harbor bombed when they couldn’t set up shop in the space they had planned for, leaving them with a freezers full of hot dogs. But he loves his friends, and it seemed worth it.
There was always a certain mystery to BI, a kind of privacy and mystique that was hard to penetrate. In his latter years, he began to open up more, with his softer side emerging more clearly. Debbie remembers how when the Council went out of their way to visit him in his apartment in Hoboken, he was deeply moved, and made a point of telling each them as they left that he loved them. They had known he loved them, but in the past he would have been less inclined to put that love into words.
It was in 2011 that BI was first diagnosed with cancer. For three and a half years he put up a tough fight, bouncing back several times when he seemed on the ropes. It was hard for a man who had always taken pride in his appearance to have people see him when all his hair had fallen out, but he embraced the vulnerability that his sickness brought to him. This man who had lived with such a powerful presence became more honest about his inner thoughts and feelings that arose in his fragile state. As hard as this time was, BI and Scott appreciated the way their father let them into his soul in a very special way in these last difficult years.
BI believed in God, but didn’t care for churches, which makes sense given his rebellious spirit. He loved music — all kinds of music — and it was in listening to music that his spirit was lifted. With his Kentucky roots mixed together with New Jersey, he was a little bit country and a little bit Rock and roll. He loved the Grateful dead and Bruce Springsteen, but he also enjoyed classical music as well.
His spirituality was expressed in his generosity — he was generous to a fault, it was said. A lot of people were helped by the generosity of his spirit.
Life is about love. We all know that, though we easily get distracted in the course of life. One thing BI and Jesus had in common is that they both loved a good party. A good party was Jesus’ favorite image of what the kingdom of Heaven was like. If you want to know what heaven is like, your best glimpse would be the love that was present at those fun-filled, heart-warming parties BI would throw where everybody was welcome and everybody felt at home. You will see him again one day, and the party will go on.