Tribute to John Collins

 Tribute to John Collins, Aug 1939 – Jan 2011
I met John Collins in 1992, only a few weeks after I moved to London from Dallas with my British husband, Quentin.  John and I were volunteers on Glenda Jackson’s first Parliamentary campaign and we met at her campaign headquarters.  I had recently joined Pax Christi, beginning to make some lifelong friends there.  John, a Catholic convert like me, also joined Pax Christi and we both attended a monthly ‘North London Pax Christi Supper Group’ that met at Bruce Kent and Valerie Flessati’s home and later at ours in Muswell Hill.
In the 1990s, John studied at the Missionary Institute London and was awarded a Degree of MA Applied Theology (Peace and Justice).  He presented a summary of his dissertation, Not Mine But Thine, A Christian Approach to the Redistribution of Wealth to the Pax Christi group.  John was passionate about the relationship between economics and Catholic Social Teaching.
John had an interesting life.  He trained as an architect, gaining degrees and diplomas from Cambridge, the AA School of Architecture and Columbia University in New York.  No fancy skyscrapers or high-rise office buildings for John – he wanted more than anything to design affordable and dignified social housing. He did this in the UK and for three years in Zambia.  In the 1970s John led an ODA-funded research team on the role of the informal sector in the urban development of Lusaka.  Returning to London, John worked for 15 years in local government, mainly on policy work in economic development.
John got in touch with me last autumn when he heard that I had left CAFOD after nine years as Head of Fundraising and Marketing.  We met up for lunch, and John got very excited when I told him about the new initiative I was starting up, Faithonomics – an interfaith think tank that ‘gives people of faith a voice on money, economics and social justice.’  He said ‘I’ve wanted to do something like that for 20 years, but never managed it.’  John promptly offered to be of whatever service he could for the start-up of Faithonomics, and began to share his archive of papers, books and contacts that would be useful and highly relevant.  We listed John as ‘Researcher’ on the Faithonomics letterhead, and John was enormously pleased with that.  He proceeded to give me many excellent resource documents and to write a précis of several relevant books he had read and cherished for their brilliance.  There was a sense of urgency for John to pass on these things to me, as time was short.
The last time I saw John was at his house, three days before Christmas.  I took croissants, but as ever, John was much more interested in conversation, not food.  We talked animatedly until John was feeling very tired.  He used to tell me I would have to stop talking as he was getting too excited – he was passionate about so many subjects, and we never ran out of words.  He asked if I would mind if he lay down so that he could rest while we finished our conversation.  He had grown quite weak by that time, but never lost his sharp intellect or zeal for social justice.  When I left John that day, we agreed what we would talk about ‘next time.’
John died less than a month later and we never had that ‘next time.’  John’s son, Stephen, had these beautiful words to say about his father:
“John was a good man.  He applied his thoroughness to the task of being good, in a remarkable way.  John reflected constantly on his behaviour towards the people around him and to society in general.  He was kind, considerate and generous.  His welcoming smile will be a special memory for most of us.  His goodwill towards his fellow men embraced those that he had never met.  He dedicated his time, his ideas and his money to helping others.  He set an inspirational example, in his constant faith and commitment to working towards a better world.  We shall miss him.”
Holly Ball, 17 February 2011

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