In his 36 years of teaching at Wyoming Seminary, W. Carver Collins graded students' work on a single wooden lap desk. Its surface is worn smooth, his son Rob said Thursday, sanded down in the inscription of countless notes and comments scrawled in red pencil.
When you got your paper back, you would see so much red pencil on it that by the time you got to the back page you couldn't believe you could pass, recalled Jay Harvey, Collins' former student and current Dean of the Wyoming Seminary Upper School. But then when you got to the end, you'd see he actually gave you a fair grade.
Collins, who died at 85 Sunday, was a teacher of English, history and theater at the Kingston private school from 1970 until 2006. He also directed plays, managed the school's performing arts center and supervised boarding students during most of his tenure.
Former students, colleagues and relatives remembered Collins as a tireless worker who held himself to the same high standards he expected from his students.
As a father, and I'm sure as a teacher, too, he taught you one of the most important characteristics to have was to be dependable, said his daughter, Mora Collins Johnson, of Seattle. You say you're going to do something; do it.
Collins would allow students to rewrite papers after giving them feedback, and to deliver papers to his residence until midnight the day they were due. He wanted students to understand that writing is a process of work, thought and revision, Harvey said.
The amount of time he spent teaching the writing process, I don't think it exists these days, Harvey said. I think it's a content-based rather than a skill-based world anymore.
Longtime colleague Marsha Costello, a retired Latin teacher, remembered Collins for his work outside the classroom as a theater director and dorm supervisor, where she said he showed just as much dedication as he did behind his lectern.
She recalled a comment former Upper School Dean David Davies once made about Collins: He does the work that would kill someone half his age.
Collins lived on campus in Darte Hall, the freshman and sophomore boys' dormitory, for most of his tenure.
Sometimes he was the grouchy curmudgeonly one in the dorm, but teenagers need that, Costello said.
He also directed as many as three plays a year, in which he sometimes cast faculty members in roles to show students another side of their personalities, and showed a particular affinity for stage crews, who were as integral to a production's success as actors but never got the credit.
As a director, Costello said, Collins could play every role in his head, and would often show students how he wanted them to perform.
Collins' skill as an actor extended to his personal life, added his son Rob.
Rob Collins, of Vienna, Austria, fondly remembered fishing with his father off the coast of Georgia during annual trips to visit family.
I always thought that was something that he always wanted to do, Rob Collins said. Maybe that was because he was such a great actor, but I learned later on that he really didn't like going fishing that much. It was just part of spending time together. He would have done anything that I wanted to do.
Costello remembered another side of Collins not all knew.
Though he never submitted them for publication, Collins self-published original plays, collections of poetry and essays, which he would give to close friends and colleagues.
I think he just loved words and loved writing as an outlet for thoughts, Costello said.
Michael McCartney, a 2001 Seminary graduate who now teaches English at a Maine magnet school, said Collins' lessons have a continuing influence on his own teaching, and that he still teaches from a copy of Dr. Faustus he first used in Collins' class.
Upon McCartney's graduation from Wyoming Seminary, Collins gave him a signed copy of a collection of self-authored sonnets. McCartney said he wouldn't understand Collins's message until years later, when he had become a teacher himself.
He thanks me for having confidence in him, McCartney said. …Teachers need people to believe in them, at least a little bit, if they're going to make a meaningful connection with kids. More than just about any other teacher, Mr. Collins gave back the belief that I had in him.
Wyoming Seminary will host a memorial service for W. Carver Collins at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Buckingham Performing Arts Center, 201 N. Sprague Ave., Kingston.