Dick Collins: Pay It Forward, Play It Straight


Dick Collins didn’t know me at all in 1978 and didn’t owe me anything. But Dick did two memorable things for me, two career bookends really, that will last with me until I go West as he did this week.

I was the new marcomm specialist at Collins Avionics, hired that hot summer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Dick and a group of aviation writers attended our pre-NBAA press event shortly before the convention. I’m sure my time with him in Cedar was limited to a firm handshake and sincere pleasantries. But I was 24, and Dick was a giant of GA to me.

I had written an ambitious press kit and six or seven autopilot and color radar brochures— not bad for a rookie in-house agency guy. My boss, Tony Huebsch, was a hands-off pro and let me do the work. Apparently, he was pleased with me, but Tony was not a back-slapping, attaboy kind of boss.

So a week after the press event, Tony called me into the office on the intercom. “There’s something I want you to see,” was all he said. Tony reached over his desk and handed me an unfolded letter, clearly from Flying magazine. It was from Dick Collins; a thank-you note.

More pleasantries. But Dick also devoted a paragraph to my young self, naming me as someone who did a good job, professionally. He sent it not to me—but to my boss. Tony didn’t add any comments. But it was a boost from Dick Collins, editor of Flying, that I never forgot.

I ran into Dick over the years while working as a marcomm manager for Collins, Sperry Flight Systems and as the original at my own marketing agency. It was good to know that he was on top of his game as captain of that iconic monthly that I still love.

I read his stuff and learned from a great pilot who happened to be a writer with straightforward wisdom worth sharing.

Dick was a big influence on my life. It’s no coincidence that my third airplane is a pressurized Centurion. That’s what he flew until he had it dismantled when he stepped back from flying in 2007.

Some 34 years after I met Dick, another note from him arrived via email, in 2012, congratulating me on being named publisher of AVweb. It meant a lot to me. I have no doubt that he had encouraged dozens of young people throughout his life.

He had that kind of class … that kind of hard-earned wisdom. His remarkable life was a reminder for me, and for all of us, to pay it forward, and to play it straight.