Collins Leaves Performing Arts Legacy

January 31, 2008

Margaret Collins, part of a dynamic husband-and-wife pair that shaped the performing arts landscape in the Shenandoah Valley, passed away January 31 at age 98. Collins was co-founder of the area’s successful Oak Grove Theater with her husband, Fletcher, and a playwright, theatrical producer and former Mary Baldwin University English professor.

“In her plays she loved to devise encounters between hugely mismatched characters,” said Mary Baldwin Professor of Theatre Virginia Francisco. Francisco took classes with Fletcher Collins when he was professor of English at Mary Baldwin and forged great friendships with him and Margaret. “In her home, folks from wildly varied places and experiences met each other to join instruments and other forces for music, theatre, and community arts,” she said.

“In the later years, as it became difficult for Margaret to leave her home, I became one of many who brought the news to her,” said Terry Southerington, Mary Baldwin professor of theatre and former student of Fletcher Collins. “She wanted to know everything that was going on, and was always full of new plans and ideas.”

It had been less than three years since Margaret Collins said good-bye to her husband of more than 60 years. The funeral will be Saturday, February 2, at 2 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton.Hamrick Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.

The family has requested that correspondence be sent care of Brandon Collins, 437 East Beverley Street, Staunton, VA 24401.

Remembering Margaret Collins

Margaret Collins’ radiant smile will always shine brightly in my memory. I entered Mary Baldwin University in February of 1947 and she was my first professor of English Literature. Although her demeanor was very professional, she immediately showed great empathy and kindness to an unworldly young girl who had just graduated from high school the previous Friday night.

Her warm, friendly manner and her manifest intelligence were not betrayed by any affectation of superiority. She pulled her hair back into a tight bun with a few escaping wisps. Not infrequently would there be a pencil tucked neatly at the ready. There was never any question that she wanted to share her profound intellect with all of us.

Every session of Prof. Collins’ class brought remembrances of her own college experiences. She made our readings become adventures rather than just boring assignments. Even the early and classical writings of Beowulf and Shakespeare’s great works came alive for us. She would have us act out some of the more difficult and arcane passages.

She had a passion for her students to retain the values of English literature throughout our lives and to that end virtually insisted that we commit significant passages to memory. This dedication has assisted me throughout my academic career in having the right figure of speech or literary reference to make a point in class or in my writings.

Personally, I felt that I was a special beneficiary of her compassion and creativity. Early on, she recognized that I was a long way from my home town, Washington. D.C., and went out of her way to encourage me to access the fabulous opportunities for classical learning in our Nation’ Capital. She gave me a list of recommended summer visits which was headed by here two temples of learning, the Libraries of Congress and the Folger Shakespeare Library and Theatre.

For over six decades, I have often reflected on how the classical education that I received at Mary Baldwin has enhanced my life’s work and all of my relationships. I particularly thank my alma mater for the all too brief loan of this great teacher who launched my lifetime of reading enjoyment.

– Nancy Carol Kirchner Eliason ’50