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LeRoy Collins, Jr. Dies in Bike Accident

Admiral LeRoy Collins, Jr., executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, was killed Thursday when he was hit by a driver while riding his bike in Tampa. He was 75.

Collins, the son of former Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins, was crossing a street when he was hit by an SUV just before 7 a.m. Police said the accident was under investigation. Collins had a home on Davis Islands in the Tampa area.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who appointed the retired Navy and Navy Reserve admiral to head up the state’s veterans affairs agency, announced Collins’ death during a Cabinet meeting.

“The Collins family in Florida is synonymous with public service,” said Crist, who was handed a note during the meeting informing him of the accident. “It’s a tremendous loss, and a great sadness.” Crist later requested that all flags at the Capitol, Veterans Affairs buildings, and all state buildings, courthouses and city halls in Hillsborough County be lowered to half-staff.

Collins ran for U.S. Senate in 2006, but lost in the Republican primary to then-U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris.

He is survived by his wife, the former Jane Sisson of Tampa, two daughters, two sons and eight grandchildren.

Collins’ father was a legendary liberal Democrat, who was governor from 1955 to 1961 and was one of the few early white advocates of civil rights in the South. But the younger Collins had been a Republican for more than two decades.

In 2006, when he was running for Senate, Collins recalled that his father “gave me hell” when he switched to the GOP, after feeling like the Democratic Party no longer represented his beliefs. During that campaign, the younger Collins told the St. Petersburg Times that he thought his father, who died in 1991, would likely have remained a Democrat, but had beliefs closer to the modern Republican Party.

After Collins’ death Thursday shocked reactions – because he remained highly active even in his 70s – and lots of praise flowed from several quarters.

Attorney General Bill McCollum, who also learned of his death during the Cabinet meeting, called Collins an “exceptional public servant” and noted that he moved from serving the country in the Navy to working for veterans in state government. “He dedicated his life to public service,” McCollum said. “He’s going to be missed.”

McCollum suggested that a new veterans home in St. Augustine be named for Collins.

AARP Acting State Director Jeff Johnson said Collins played a major role in getting a new veterans’ hospital in Orlando as well, and noted that at his death, Collins was the oldest currently serving secretary of a state agency.

“With the death of Adm. LeRoy Collins Jr., Floridians have lost a leader and advocate who worked effectively on behalf of older veterans,” Johnson said.

“Admiral Collins’ awful and unexpected passing is extremely upsetting to so many Floridians who share in this tragic loss,” said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, the chairman of the state Republican Party. “Like his mother and father before him, Admiral Collins truly embodied a life of service to others. From his decorated service in the United States Navy and Naval Reserve and respected career as a businessman, to his advocacy for and representation of our state’s veteran population, their families and survivors, Admiral Collins lived an exceptional story that will always have a place in both the history of our great state and in the hearts of all who knew him.”

3 Responses »

  1. So sad about Admiral Collins. He was the definition of awesome.

  2. I just found out about the passing of Mr. Collins, and it was such a shock to hear. I used to work for Mr. Collins and he was such an honorable man. Such a loss and I know he will be greatly missed by his family and friends.

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