In England at Buckingham Palace, a special flag called the Royal Standard is flown when the Queen is in residence. I suppose this would notify anyone entering to take extra special consideration due to the possibility of encountering the Queen. In the United States, any Air Force aircraft carrying the President is called Air Force One and any Marine helicopter is called Marine One which announces the significance of the traveler on board. At Fisk University, a far less formal tradition would let you know of the presence of Dr. L.M. Collins in the library.
When entering the library, with little fanfare Doc would simply place his hat on the counter as he headed left to the elevator that took him to his second story office. My personal experience is that I can’t recall ever entering the library without noting whether or not the Doctor was in. One could be invited to his office by appointment, sometimes summoned or one could just drop by, taking the chance that the line of students wouldn’t be too long. Upon entering the office one is struck by the limited space, overwhelmed by books everywhere seemingly growing out of the walls and piled on many surfaces. Many a student left with a book they didn’t have on the way in as there was little in his collection if anything that he wouldn’t freely share.
I often wondered about his hat, if there were a single hat of which he took the same meticulous care as he did the El Dorado that sat in the driveway of the cottage where he resided during most of his Fisk years. He sent me on an errand once, asking me to take the El Dorado which made me both appreciative that he’d thought me responsible but also fearful that any harm might come to his car while in my possession. This would have been about 1977; the car was already 7 years old and had only 5,000 miles on the odometer. Doc Collins walked most everywhere he went.
Pictorial evidence showed he actually had a number of hats over the years. Some came with a band, some tweed and others plain. There are words you could never associate with a Dr. Collins hat; dirty, crumpled, faded or pretty much anything with a negative connotation. And when he placed his hat down when he entered the library, there was no question it would still be there when Dr. Collins came to retrieve it for who would dare take that hat?
My memories of Dr. Collins are forever with me and in his passing, I’m not so much experiencing a loss for myself but sadness for future Fiskites who won’t be blessed with his presence. They won’t know to glance left when entering the library and feel just a little bit better in knowing that the Doctor is in!
In Loving Memory of Dr. Leslie M. Collins – February 23, 2014