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ROBERT DEAVER COLLINS, M.D., 1928-2013

Collins Best R4

It is with great sadness and personal loss that I must inform you of the passing of another giant in hematopathology, Robert Deaver Collins, M.D. on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 2013 after a battle with prostate cancer. As a hematopathology community we are well aware of his significant contributions to our field (Lukes-Collins classification, further definition of follicular lymphoma, and early recognition of T-cell lymphoma). For those of you who may not have known Dr. Collins personally, I take this opportunity to tell you about the man who taught by the example of the life he led.

Born in middle Tennessee on October 28, 1928, he was the son of a “country doctor” and received BA and MD degrees from Vanderbilt University. He studied Pathology under Ernest William Goodpasture, spent a year in Internal Medicine at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, and did a fellowship in Microbiology at Johns Hopkins University. He then joined the faculty of Vanderbilt Medical School where he established the Division of Hematopathology and where he remained for 56 years. He spent two sabbaticals at Cambridge University doing research in the Department of Medicine (with Dr. Hayhoe). He received the Grant Liddle Award for Excellence in Research, was named the Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professor of Pathology in 1996, and held the John Shapiro Chair in Pathology (1996-2009). In his career, he authored the AFIP fascicle Tumors of the Hematopoietic System in 1992 with Dr. Robert Lukes, edited the first textbook on Pediatric Hematopathology with Dr. Steven Swerdlow, and wrote a biography Ernest William Goodpasture Scientist, Scholar, Gentleman and another monograph Ahmic Lake Connections: The Founding Leadership of Vanderbilt University.  

His many years on the faculty of Vanderbilt Medical School were spent training countless medical students, residents, and fellows. His lectures and organ recitals were notorious. He knew every student’s name, called on them individually during lectures and, if late to lecture, he started over or asked them to come by his office late in the afternoon, so “you will have the same opportunity to learn as the other students”. He received numerous teaching awards, and The Vanderbilt School of Medicine faculty award for Excellence in Teaching Medical or Graduate Students or Practicing Physicians in the Lecture Setting is named “The Robert D. Collins Award” in his honor. He was instrumental in establishing the Vanderbilt Medical School Endowed Scholarship Program. He continued teaching, participating in research activities, writing and scholarship fund raising until very recently.

Dr. Collins epitomized professionalism. Always a true Southern gentleman, he showed great respect and concern for patients, trainees, staff, and colleagues. He was straightforward and honest, and he recognized and gave due credit to those who made significant contributions to our field. I most value his critical thinking, logical approach to integrating information, and diagnostic acumen. At times it seemed he had a “sixth sense” about a patient’s disease. He could always tell you the reasons he made a particular diagnosis, making it easy and fun to learn. As fellows, we could never complain about duty hours; he was at work from 7:30 am till after 8:00 pm, signing out with fellows from 4:00 pm until closing time. I was always amazed at his time management and organizational skills, as he not only had a huge consultation service but he was also a regular attending on the surgical pathology and autopsy services and taught medical students every week of the sophomore pathology course. He taught me discipline and emphasized the privilege those of us have to practice academic medicine.

What more can I say except that it was a privilege and an honor to have a mentor with such high standards of excellence and scholarship and the ability to bring out the best in us all. He leaves behind his wife of 63 years Elizabeth Cate Collins and three sons, one daughter, five grandchildren and one great granddaughter. However, he lives on through all the lives he touched and will be missed by many.

Marsha C. Kinney, M.D.

President, Society for Hematopathology

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