"God, give me hills to climb,
And strength for climbing!"
These words ending Arthur Guiterman's poem, Hills could well describe the life and work of the late Cecil Woodrow Collins who went out from the hills of Union County and became a productive and useful citizen. But with him, throughout his life was a love for the hills of home and the symbolism they represented in challenge and achievement.
Cecil Woodrow Collins died April 22, 2006 in Northeast Georgia Medical Center at age 92. In between his birth on September 26, 1913 in Union County, GA., and his death, he had packed a lot of living and climbed hills not a few.
He was the first-born of six children, three sons and three daughters, of Francis Thurman Collins (known as Bob T.) and Mary Viola (Collins) Collins. With both his father and mother born into the Collins lineage, Cecil's family roots go back to the first Collins settler in the county, Thompson Collins and his wife Celia Self Collins, and their children.
In Cecil's paternal line were his grand parents, Thompson ("Thomp") Smith Collins and Susan ("Susie") Jane Cook Collins; his great grand parents, Francis ("Frank") and Rutha Nix Collins: and his great, great grand parents, early settlers Thompson Collins and Celia Self Collins.
In Cecil's maternal line were his grandparents James ("Jim") Johnson Collins and Margaret A. Nix Collins; his great grand parents, Ivan Kimsey Collins and Martha J. Hunter Collins; and his great, great grandparents, Thompson and Celia Self Collins.
Back when Bob T. Collins courted and married Mary Viola Collins, tracing of family roots was not as popular as it became later in the twentieth century. Cecil's parents had the same last name. Sure, they both went back to the earliest settler, Thompson Collins. Of "good mountain stock," these "distant" cousins reared six children of excellent character, intelligence and integrity: Cecil, Hazel, Jim, Neal, Mary Catherine and Betty Jane. Of his siblings, one, Jim, preceded Cecil in death.
Cecil was educated at the one and/or two-teacher school at Choestoe, and graduated from Blairsville High School in 1931. He then attended Young Harris College during some of the worst years of the Great Depression, graduating in 1933. After college, he secured a job with the newly-organized Civilian Conservation Corps as clerk. The CCC was a boon for country boys seeking employment, and was founded by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to help alleviate the job situation in depressed times.
Then came World War II. Cecil Woodrow Collins enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard where he served as a "90-Day Wonder" Lieutenant JG officer. His two brothers also served in World War II: James Thompson Collins in the U. S. Navy and Robert Neal Collins in the Army Air Force. Cecil was on active duty in the Coast Guard through the end of the war in 1945, and continued as a reserve officer until his discharge in 1955.
In 1946 Cecil Collins began a 45-year career with the Social Security Administration (SSA), serving first as a field representative in the claims department. It was while he was working in Meridian. Mississippi that he met Miss Mamie Lorena Camp. They married December 9, 1951. Two sons were born to the couple, Glenn Camp Collins in 1953 and Andy Thomas Collins in 1956. The boys were born when the couple lived at Athens, GA.
Cecil Collins proved that he was ready to "climb mountains" in his work in the Social Security Administration. He served for more than 20 years as branch manager in the office at Gainesville.
In Gainesville Cecil could look northward toward the mountains that called him home frequently. He took Glenn and Andy hunting, fishing and hiking in the hills of Choestoe. In the family's location in the burgeoning city of Gainesville, they had the best of two worlds-city life and its opportunity and proximity to the mountains and the great out-of-doors.
Active in First Baptist Church, Gainesville, and a deacon and teacher, Cecil's quiet leadership and commonsense wisdom lent much to the work and growth of the church. In community affairs, he was a member of the Lions Club and executive director of the Community Chest which later was named United Way. Lorena likewise was active in church and community and was a long-time volunteer at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
His funeral was conducted at the church he loved, First Baptist, Gainesville, on April 24, 2006, with his pastor, Dr. Bill Coates, and retired pastor, Dr. John Lee Taylor, and Bruce Fields remembering characteristics of this mountain main who, as Guiterman expressed in his poem, found "hills to climb" throughout his life and went all the way to the top of them. His body was taken back to the "hills of home," and interred at Choestoe Baptist Church Cemetery.
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 6, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved