James E. "Spec" Collins Jr., 84, longtime financial editor of The Buffalo News, died Friday (Sept. 3, 1999) in Autumn View Manor Health Care Facility, Hamburg, where he had been a resident for six weeks.
A News employee for nearly 48 years, Collins retired in 1977 after serving as financial editor for more than 21 years. He had been named assistant financial editor in 1951 and was promoted to financial editor in 1956.
Collins joined the newspaper, known then as The Buffalo Evening News, as a copyboy in 1929 after dropping out of South Park High School a month into his freshman year. He got the job with the help of a school truant officer who was convinced there was no way to keep him in class.
After becoming the paper's youngest copyboy, Collins later operated a teletype machine, worked as a wire room "gummer" and got into the financial department as a board marker.
Within a few years, Collins had become a reporter. As a reporter and editor he was known for his aggressiveness, his zeal to beat the competition and a "get it in the paper first" attitude.
Murray B. Light, editor and senior vice president of The Buffalo News, recalled Collins as a highly efficient and effective newsman.
"It's sad to see the passing of another of our old-line editors," he said. "Jim was Mr. Dependable. He did his job in a steady, straightforward way."
Light described Collins as a man of few words who was considered by his colleagues to be "brusque at times."
"He ran a tight ship and insisted that his employees be fair to all the sources with whom they dealt," he said. "He was a good man. He was not flashy in any way, but he got his job done day in and day out and got it done well."
During his lengthy reporting career, Collins, whose byline was Jimmy Collins, literally got caught in the cross-fire in his car as police and crooks shot it out on Washington Street. He almost unearthed the top-secret Manhattan Project that processed the uranium used in the atomic bomb just weeks before the mushroom cloud rose over Hiroshima.
He reported on ice-breaking operations in the Buffalo Harbor, covered the stockyards and observed the first jet plane roll off the production line at the former Bell Aircraft Corp. in Wheatfield. He also interviewed Henry Ford and chatted with President Harry Truman.
As a writer, Collins took pride in getting simple explanations of complicated issues.
"I wrote the stories that way and I think the readers could understand them better," he said in a retirement-story interview.
One story that Collins was reluctant to report on involved his own heroics in 1931, when he dived fully clothed into Buffalo Creek to rescue a 10-year-old boy.
Since he was on vacation at the time, Collins didn't bother telling the newspaper. After word of his deed spread through South Buffalo, The News learned of it and ran the story with a picture about the heroic copyboy.
Collins picked up the nickname "Spec" as a teen-age softball player, probably because of his freckles.
A Buffalo native, he grew up in South Buffalo and moved to Hamburg in the early 1960s.
In his retirement he enjoyed spending time at a summer cottage that he built in Brant, spending time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and traveling.
Collins was a member of the Fellowship Lodge 1175, F&AM.
An avid bowler, he served as secretary of the Buffalo Evening News Bowling League and vice president of the South Buffalo Church Bowling League.
Collins' wife, the former Grace Hess, died in 1985.
Survivors include a daughter, Karen Blenker of the Village of Hamburg; a son James of North Boston; a brother, Thomas of West Seneca; four grandchildren; and two great-grandsons.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the Floyd Hess Chapel of Loomis, Offers & Loomis Inc., 207 Main St., Hamburg. Burial will be in Woodlawn Cemetery, Orchard Park.