Walter Paul Collins
Successful insurance agent also enjoyed writing poetry and owning and training thoroughbred racehorses
Walter Paul Collins, who collected bottles in Baltimore to help his family through the Depression, and later owned thoroughbred racehorses, published poetry and earned distinction as an insurance agent, died Oct. 31 at his daughter’s Cockeysville home of complications from a broken hip. He was 92.
Mr. Collins was most proud, as he would tell his three children, as well as friends and neighbors, of marrying Doris Anne Coppleman in 1952, who died in 2001. Even when his health deteriorated, he remained in their home in Stewartstown, Pa., to be near her grave, family members said.
“For a number of years, we asked him to come down and live with one of us. He wanted to stay. He would not leave her,” said a son, Timothy Collins of Baltimore.
“He couldn’t talk enough about his wife. He just praised her and gave her many accolades. His love for her was pretty much — I can’t explain it,” said Denny Cooper, his neighbor in Stewartstown since the late 1980s.
Mr. Collins was born in Baltimore, one of eight children, to Fletcher and Marie Collins. Fletcher Collins, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, performed metal work before a debilitating eye injury.
The Depression hit the family hard. As a boy, Mr. Collins collected and washed glass bottles for money and sold magazines door-to-door. As a teenager, he worked as a soda jerk at Lemler’s pharmacy. He graduated from Baltimore’s St. Martin Catholic High School in 1942, where in his senior year he coached the junior varsity baseball team to a championship season. He would remain a baseball fan, particularly of the Baltimore Orioles, throughout his life.
The day he met Doris Anne Coppleman became family legend.
During World War II, she worked at a warehouse in downtown Baltimore. Mr. Collins worked for General Mills Inc. and noticed her across the floor.
“Dad told the story every time you met him,” Timothy Collins said. “Dad says, ‘Who is that girl?’ The guys told him, ‘That’s Doris. Do you know her?’ ‘No, but that’s the girl I’m going to marry.”
She was a singer who gave recitals at the Peabody Institute and made her own records. She was also familiar with wouldbe suitors.
“My mother didn’t want anything to do with my father,” said another son, Daniel Collins of Towson.
Mr. Collins recited Shakespeare to her; she escaped to the bathroom. He knocked on the door. For weeks, he would bring her bags of black licorice. When a snowstorm trapped her at the warehouse, he drove her home, then carried her through the drifts to her door.
Their marriage in 1952 lasted until her death at 77 from Alzheimer’s disease. He bought her a marble gravestone two inches wider than any other in the cemetery, Timothy Collins said.
The couple raised their two sons and a daughter, Kelly Collins of Cockeysville, in the Ramblewood neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore. Timothy Collins remembers how anxious he felt awaiting results of his test for promotion in the U.S. Merchant Marine in the early 1980s.
“Dad had come out of the house and he had this fierce look in his face. ‘Well, you did it. You really did it.’ ” Timothy Collins said. “I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ He grabbed me by the shoulders hugged me and said, ‘You passed that exam, Officer Collins.’ ”
Mr. Collins worked from the late 1960s to the early 1980s as an insurance agent and manager at Monumental Life Insurance Co. and MetLife. He retired at 62 from Philadelphia United Life Insurance Co., then taught courses for agents. He earned the Chartered Life Underwriter designation.
“My father was a very intelligent man, but he grew up in a time that he didn’t have a lot of opportunity,” Daniel Collins said.
Mr. Collins owned and trained thoroughbred racehorses in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He raced them at tracks in Maryland and West Virginia. His most successful horse was Tarry Not, a stakes winner on the West Virginia racing circuit. Mr. Collins also ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the Maryland House of Delegates in 1974.
Throughout his life, he wrote poems, and he gathered them in a book published in 2005, “Psalm of a City, Saratoga, and Other Poems.” In his poem “Interlude,” he begins: “The sky, all thundered out, lies widowed to the sun. Soft rain’s fingers stroke a parting gesture on my face. I stand as a child watching the day begin.”
In 1988, he and his wife moved to Stewartstown, where Mr. Collins grew tomatoes, corn and zucchini.
After his wife died, he planted around their house rosebushes blooming in pink and red; he would pick the roses and place them at his wife’s grave.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at J.J. Hartenstein Mortuary, 19 S. Main St. in Stewartstown. He will be buried beside his wife. Walter Paul Collins was devoted to his wife, who died in 2001.