Feb. 20, 1938 – Jan. 25, 2018
There was no mistaking longtime Buffalo Common Councilmember David A. Collins' tenacity when it came to the Griffin administration's push for financing the development of Pilot Field.
Twenty-eight years later, people still remember. Former Common Council colleagues recall that Mr. Collins' support hinged on assurances from the mayor that his administration would complete the two-phase redevelopment of the former War Memorial Stadium in his Masten District.
Mr. Collins' push helped pave the way for what became the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Sports Pavilion, replacing what had been War Memorial, also known as the Rockpile.
"Wiley would not be there if it had not been for Collins and Hank Nowak," recalled former Council President George K. Arthur. "They were the moving force for that being there today, including the financing and leading the charge to keep it there – football, track, baseball – as a multiple use stadium used by high schools and residents. Dave was the key to it."
Mr. Collins – who served an 18-year council career and was a champion for Buffalo's poorest neighborhoods – demanded assurances from City Hall for redeveloping the War Memorial site before he would support a bond for the downtown baseball stadium now known as Coca-Cola Field.
"He would always take the lead. If there was anybody who had the spirit, the intelligence, the nerve, the courage, it was Dave," said former Ellicott Councilmember James W. Pitts. "Dave was probably one of those people you could describe as not just from the people, but of the people. Dave was a person you could count on, come hell or high water. He was genuine leather."
Mr. Collins, 79, died Thursday in Erie County Medical Center after a brief illness.
Born in Prentiss, Miss., in 1938, he graduated from Prentiss Normal Industrial Institute. He then attended Alcorn A&M College in Lorman, Miss., for a year and a half before moving to Buffalo in 1956.
It was in Buffalo that he met and married the former Jean D. Brooks, his wife of 57 years.
He attended Canisius College and worked at General Motors Corp. as an assembly worker before graduating from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a bachelor's degree in social services, and also obtaining 45 hours toward a master's degree in the same field. He taught at UB's South Campus for 25 years as an adjunct professor.
Mr. Collins also owned a remodeling business before his first election to the Common Council in 1977.
He was a community activist his entire life.
Mr. Collins was known for being in the forefront during much of the Jimmy Griffin administration, when a revolution of sorts occurred with a lot of new, young faces elected to the Common Council, Pitts among them. Although Mr. Collins was a bit older than some of his newly elected colleagues, he made his mark and his presence was felt beyond City Hall.
Active in union leadership, he was involved in the Pullman porters forming the first all-black union under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph.
He also directed the Employment Information Center and worked with the Community Action Organization, securing grants for multiple community programs, including the Weatherization Program and Senior Companion Program.
Mr. Collins was instrumental in breaking down racial barriers through his leadership involvement with the NAACP.
"Dave was one of those people that kind of cut his teeth during the civil rights movement, not only locally, but Dave was also very much involved regionally and nationally," Pitts said, recalling him as one of his early role models. "He was always in front of the line when it came to change, when it came to fighting for equal rights. Dave pioneered a lot of stuff."
Pitts said being on the Council gave Mr. Collins an opportunity to come downtown and implement many projects, whether it was Pilot Field, the redeveloped War Memorial site, or the former Apollo Theater on Jefferson Avenue, now the Apollo Media Center for public, educational and governmental access.
Mr. Collins also was known for being willing to meet with anyone, even in the wee hours of the morning, to help organize a demonstration or help anyone in need. "Whether political or personal ... he was that type of person," Pitts said. "He had connections citywide. He was very much involved with organizing unions and was an entrepreneur."
On a lighter side, Pitts recalls that he and Mr. Collins would give city proclamations to prominent entertainers when they came to perform in Buffalo, among them Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire and Ray Charles.
Mr. Collins also served on the boards of National Head Start, the Community Action Organization and the board of trustees at Buffalo General Hospital. He also was a United Way board member and served in the National Christians & Jews Organization.
In addition to his wife, survivors include two daughters, Dr. Michelle D. Collins-Jiggetts and Senora Boddie; a sister, Sherell McNair; and six grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Luke AME Zion Church, 314 E. Ferry St.