Wednesday, September 06, 2006
A 9-11 Tribute - Thomas J. Collins
When I began this project, I searched through hundreds of web pages looking for information on Thomas J. Collins. I first found him in one of the "lists" that seem to be so common on the internet. There are dozens of them. There he was, right below Michael L. Collins, right above Joseph Collison. The name made me pause. In a list of thousands, this was the one - Thomas J. Collins - that I was going to know, to learn about and to give tribute to. "Humbling" does not even begin to describe how I felt as I looked at that name with that thought in mind.
I wondered how many lives Thomas touched. How many people at Half Hollow Hills High School called him a friend? How many coworkers at Sandler O'Neill and Associates enjoyed his company? How many people were fortunate enough to know this man? However many, after today, there will be one more.
As I scoured the internet one repeating theme seemed to surface over and over...friendship. It seems that everyone who knew this man and took the time to write their memories of him always included the word friendship in one way or another.
"He had a gift for friendship."
"He was a genius at friendship."
How many people do you know can fit such a description? I can count them on one hand, with a few fingers to spare.
Thomas was born in July 1965 to Tom and Dottie Collins, two people who raised their children in a strong, family-centered home. His older sister, Colleen, was a mentor and a touchstone for Thomas, his proverbial "reality check". His brother, Tim, was a worthy competitor for Thomas, and the source of a healthy sibling rivalry that seemed to resurface at family functions. And he was always protective of his precious younger sister, Jen. His dad acted as the ideal father role-model, while his mother taught him the virtues of being an honorable man and a loving husband. She knew him as her most sensitive child. Despite his tough athletic exterior, he had a soft and warm heart.
Then there was Juila, his soul mate, his perfect compliment. Married in August 2000, their special bond became a template for others to follow, and a wonderful lesson for so many who failed at love and marriage. Julia was strong, smart and devoted. And they were fun to be around. They were the couple who had the funniest stories. They were the couple who would sing karoake duets at parties. They were the couple who looked at each other with looks that spoke volumns. They were the couple that everyone wanted to be around. They loved the song "More" by Bobby Darin, and it's a song that says so much. I wonder how many dances they shared to that song, how many memories. I wish I knew because as I learned about Thomas I realized how nice it would have been to know him personally. That's the kind of person he was. He possessed a magnetism that so few have. He made others feel good. That was his gift to the world. That's what I learned just by surfing the net. It boggles my mind to think how much more I could have learned by knowing him personally.
He was best man at nine weddings. I don't know if I've even been to nine weddings, my own included. When he was laid to rest, 3,000 people showed up to pay their respects. The magnetism lived on, even when his earthly body didn't.
He was an exceptional athlete, a 4 year varsity lacrosse starter at Ithaca College, and in his spare time he loved snow skiing, water skiing and wrestling, but rarely would he go out for one of these things without calling friends or family to ask "what's going on this weekend". He was always a 'genuis at friendship'.
Indeed, I think we all know a Thomas Collins, or at least we should. People like him make the world a better place, and make us better people. Even in his absence, a legacy of service to others lives on through the Thomas J Collins Memorial Fund, a charity fund that benefits the Cleft Palate Foundation of New York, the Send-a-Kid Fishing Program and the Build a Reef Foundation. Some people just refuse to quit giving of themselves to others.
As I look at that list, amazed at what I learned about Thomas Collins, I wonder how many others there were like him. I wish I could learn about all of them. And then I pause again, thankful that I learned about this one. Thankful that in the shadow of a tragedy blessings continue to flow...thankful for people like Thomas J. Collins.