Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

March 28, 2011

Andover Stories: A man born to do

Andover Stories
Tom Adams Andover Historical Society

Much has been written about the life of J. Everett Collins. Perhaps Everett summed up best what made him tick. "Help people. Help organizations," he said. "Join, get in, and do." For the 92 years he walked this earth, Collins did just that, he got involved. His gift of music lifted our spirit; his vision helped our town grow.

Born in Andover in 1894, Collins came from humble beginnings. Things we now take for granted were then but the stuff of dreams. In an age so different than today, Collins experienced the family's first bath tub, the moment their home first had gas lighting, and living in a world without cars. He discovered early a passion for sports. An accomplished left-handed hitting catcher, Collins became such a high school star he was later paid a then handsome sum of $10 a game to play for a team in Manchester.

"Back then $10 would buy a good suit," Collins recalled.

While he never lost his love of sports, it was music that captured his soul. At age 12, he was the boy soloist at Christ Church. Following three years of intensive voice training, Everett sang as a soloist at churches in Boston and Brookline, eventually becoming choir director at South Church and later at Calvary Church in Lawrence, a position he held for 50 years. He not only led choirs, he organized them, too. In 1926, Collins organized the Andover Male Choir. It was soon judged to be the finest in New England. He organized the Andover Choral Society with whom, beginning in 1929, he performed Handel's Messiah, delighting Andover audiences each Christmas season for 55 years.

"Mr. Music," as Collins became known, once said that his greatest joy was getting people to sing. He brought that joy to the youth of Andover, shaping the music programs at Andover High School and West Middle School. In 1963, he began over two decades of work guiding the Andover schools as its choral consultant. Everett ignited the love of music in literally thousands of students who lovingly referred him as their "Uncle John." His half-century gift of music was recognized in 1983 with the dedication of the J. Everett Collins Center for the Performing Arts at Andover High School. The center continues to provide our community with a world-class venue.

Collins' life embraced far more than music. He married his high school sweetheart, Elizabeth Abbott, and raised four sons here in Andover. He had a long, successful career in the insurance industry, yet found the time to get involved in the community. For six years, Collins was a member of the Andover School Committee and the town assessor. He was a selectman for 20-years and a state representative for 13 years more. He was appointed to the board of review with the State Division of Employment Security, later serving as board president. He served our nation in World War I. He got involved early in life and never stopped.

In our age of sound bites and heroes with feet of clay, J. Everett Collins stands out resilient and true. A few days before a Boston Pops concert opened the performance center bearing his name, Mr. Music reflected that "I have tried to do things that are good. I have tried through my life to make people happy, to get a joy out of life. God knows I have."

In the time he was with us, our town experienced the magic of J. Everett Collins. We shared not only his joy but the glow that his zeal for life sparked within us.

"Andover Stories" is a weekly column about interesting local people and events, told in anticipation of the Andover Historical Society's 100 anniversary in 2011.