Longtime Wake County educator and former town Commissioner Roy Collins passed away Monday at the age of 82.
Collins lived more than five decades in Zebulon, where he first ran for commissioner and won a seat in 1989 while also involved with the local parks and recreation board. He served three straight terms until 2001, when he did not seek re-election.
He thought his time in politics had ended until many people encouraged him to run to reclaim a seat on the town board in 2005. He won, and remained a local commissioner until his Alzheimer’s disease worsened in 2013.
Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny considered Collins a good friend, “even before the board of commissioners that he served on so well.”
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The two would drop their children off at the Wakelon campus in the mornings for a transportation service to take them to school in Wake Forest. Roy also taught another one of Matheny’s sons during his time as a teacher for Wake schools.
“I thought a lot about Roy,” Matheny said. “I thought he worked hard for the community, both black and white, and was a real contributor to the community and a really good friend.”
The Wilson County native graduated from Fayetteville State University in 1960 before beginning a 30-year career in education. He retired in 1993.
In the classroom, Collins taught more than just math, according to Jenny Privette. She taught physical education on the seventh-grade team alongside Collins in the early 1980s at Vaiden Whitley Middle School.
“He taught citizenship and students really thought a lot of him,” Privette recalled. “He was well-liked by students and teachers.
“He taught to each individual student – he tried not to leave anyone out and was very concerned about every student. He was a very good man.”
Zebulon Commissioner Glenn York recalls Collins, Gladys Todd and his parents forming the Concerned Citizens Organization, which emanated from a former center for the local black community that Collins was involved with.
York also recalls being a student in Collins’ sixth-grade class at James E. Shepard School.
“One of our tasks in his class was we had to read the paper or listen to the news and write on an article we heard in the news every day,” York said. “That kind of kept you involved with what was going on around you. It also taught me how to write and how to listen, how to communicate.”
York said Collins’ work in town government inspired him to seek election in 2013, when voters chose him to fill Collins’ seat. The two and Robert Holden have been the only black commissioners in the town’s history.
“He was very important to the black community,” York said. “He was very well respected – folks looked up to him. He was honest and sincere, and you definitely don’t find too many folks like that.
“I didn’t ever see he had any personal interest or ties to use the (elected) office for personal gain. It was all tied to helping the community.”
When running to return to the Zebulon town board in the fall of 2005, Collins said he believed in serving at the will of the people. After the community convinced him to run again, he received the most votes among all the candidates.
“I see things as a teacher does,” he said at the time. “In a school, you have to work with parents and students to be successful. You have to communicate. You can motivate. After a while, they start to listen.”
Among Collins’ interests as a commissioner were attracting and retaining jobs in Zebulon, diversifying town staff and opening up East Barbee Street to through traffic.
Several factors prevented the dead-end road from being extended, but Collins was credited for the cul de sac that was constructed there several years ago.
“He was a great part of brokering that deal,” Matheny said.
Town leaders recognized Collins’ 19 years of service in January, 2014, presenting his wife Christine with a Zebulon flag at their monthly meeting.
Visitation was held Thursday at Richard Harris Funeral Home in Zebulon and funeral services were set for Saturday at Crisp Chapel Free Will Baptist Church in Macclesfield.