E.B. Collins: 1925-2008

He was a consummate gentleman, a man firm in his beliefs, soft spoken in expression, sensitive to the views of others and deeply committed to the vital interests of the Vineyard. The death of E.B. Collins last Sunday recalls a period of political civility in a time of rising contention at the Steamship Authority.

From 1990 to 1993, Mr. Collins served as the Island representative on the SSA governing board. He was the quiet bridge between two powerful and outspoken Vineyard boat line governors. Mr. Collins succeeded Robert L. Stutz who retired from the Steamship Authority because of ill health. In 1993 Ronald H. Rappaport, an attorney and legal counsel to five of six Vineyard towns, assumed the post of Island SSA governor.

Because of his unassuming demeanor and his commitment to gentle diplomacy, it would be easy to overlook the considerable contributions Mr. Collins made to the quality of life on the Vineyard. But that would be a mistake.

Mr. Collins became the Vineyard governor at an uneasy time for the Steamship Authority. The boat line was under increasing political attack from Beacon Hill where politicians threatened to undercut Island control of the Steamship Authority by expanding the governing board to five members. Raising the boat line’s bond limit, an urgently needed step, was held up in the state legislature and there were state investigations of SSA operations under way when Mr. Collins took the reins of power.

Mr. Collins first visited the Vineyard in the early 1950s and retired to the Island in 1987. He had a long and distinguished career in the transportation and distribution business, much of it with Sears, Roebuck and Co. This background helped to guide Mr. Collins through those difficult years at the Steamship Authority.

It is not often that Vineyard officials in important political posts win public praise when they leave office. But the sentiments of many Vineyarders were expressed with clarity in an open letter of thanks to E.B. Collins for this public service to the Island:

“Your term was one of total commitment and loyal service. Your graciousness, integrity and tireless dedication to serving the interests of all elements of our Island community are to be admired.”

Mr. Collins’s tenure at the Steamship Authority proved above all else that there is place for civility even in the sometimes fractured world of boat line politics.