Raymond Austin “Nicky” Collins was born on June 21, 1940 in Birmingham, Alabama, the second child of Edward Collins, (1914-1966) and Marneen Jackson Collins, (1916-1991), natives of Birmingham who migrated to Chicago in the 1930's. He was preceded in birth by his beloved older sister Gwendolyn Berry Collins, and the son of his father and his first wife, William Edward “Bill”Collins 1 (1934- 2008).
As his parents and maternal grandparents, Samuel and Mattie Lee Swain, (who moved in with the family in the mid ‘40's) were Christians, and his fraternal and maternal grandfathers were Baptist ministers, Raymond and his sister regularly attended Sunday School at Pilgrim Baptist Church where the father of Gospel music, Thomas A. Dorsey, directed the choir. Political discourse also took place in the home, and at an early age his mother taught them “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the so called “Negro National Anthem.” During his childhood and youth, alongside his lifelong friends Pershing Anderson and Paul Watkins, he joined the Boy Scouts and the Civil Air Patrol,learned to swim at the South Side Boy's Club, and played little league baseball.
In high school he was a member of the football and track teams and the Jr. Math Honor Society. He also played percussion instruments in the pep, ROTC and concert bands. Following study at Chicago City College he joined the Air Force and served in the Strategic Air Command during the height of the cold war. He was eventually stationed on the island of Majorca in Spain for about a year, where he had an incredible time on a 9 to 5 Air Force assignment, learning conversational Spanish (in which he loved to engage whenever the opportunity arose), and embracing a new culture for the first time.
In April 1967, accompanied by friend, Otis Freeman, Ray encountered three young women, Juanita Smith, Patsy Conner, and Joann Wilson (two Black, one White, and all three roommates), at a popular cafe in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. All three young women were members of the Bahá’í Faith. In 1965 he’d read an article in Ebony magazine about the Bahá’í Faith and agreed with its principles. He’d made a mental note to visit the House of Worship in Wilmette but hadn’t done so. He had many questions for the three young women and their lively conversation lasted until 2:00 am Sunday morning when the cafe closed. Immediately struck by the Bahá’í teachings, he attended a public talk on the Bahá’í Faith the very same afternoon he’d met the youth in the café, and was present at meetings in the home of a Black couple, Lucille and Monroe McCarroll, later that week. After two weeks of non-stop immersion in
the Baha'i teachings, he was excited but worn out. Living close to Lake Michigan he decided to take a weeks’ vacation to resolve the “Baha'i question,” once and for all. Each morning he packed a lunch and his Bahá’í books and retreated to the lake front for study and prayer. After some days of prayer, study, and reflection he returned to the Crawford’s on April 25, 1967 and declared his belief in Bahá’u’llah, and His teachings of justice, unity, and a world free from all forms of prejudice and bigotry.
Through her brother and fellow Bahá’í youth Douglas Ewart, he soon met Beverly Ewart, who’d declared her faith in Bahá’u’llah in Chicago the previous year. Raymond and Beverly were married on November 18, 1967 at the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette. Together with Beverly and their two children Michael Steven and Camille, Raymond embarked on a life of service to the Cause of Bahá’u’llah which included pioneering (or missionary work) on the home front to Gallup, New Mexico; pioneering internationally to Beverly’s homeland of Jamaica; and at the Bahá’í National Center, where Raymond served at the behest of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States as Manager of the first Bahá’í House of Worship on the American continent in Wilmette, IL, for seven years.After Wilmette, for the first time in their married lives, Raymond and Beverly made a move not directly related to Bahá’í service when they settled in Coronado, California where Ray enjoyed tremendous success as a salesman with Xerox. After just a couple of years with the company he was a leading salesman in his district and was rewarded with a trip to Germany. However, he and Beverly had long dreamt of serving the Bahá’í Faith in Africa. After four years they abandoned their comfortable life in California and around 1983 or 4, left for East Africa without a job or home, or prior knowledge of a single soul.
Together with his wife Beverly, Raymond served the Bahá’í community of Kenya for eighteen years, which included a long stint on the Local Spiritual Assembly ofNairobi as well as the National Teaching Committee of Kenya. During the Bahá’í Holy Year of 1992 Raymond was able to fulfill the first of two nine-day Bahá’í pilgrimages to the Holy Land in his lifetime. In May of 2001, he was immensely blessed to be among a gathering of Bahá’ís from all over the world in attendance at the dedication of the Bahá’í Terraces on Mt. Carmel, at the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa, Israel. During his tenure at the US Embassy in Kenya, where he helped to resettle the orphaned “Lost Boys” of Sudan in America, he received commendation from the
US Ambassador to Kenya in 2001 for his “exceptionally meritorious performance” as a Refugee Specialist. As they’d done so many times before, Raymond and Beverly prioritized service to Bahá’u’llah and support of the Bahá’í Institutions when they returned to the United States in 2002 to become Administrators of The Louis G. Gregory Bahá’í Institute in Hemingway, South Carolina, at the behest of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States. Upon completion of their service at the Louis Gregory Institute, they settled comfortably into retired life in Florence, South Carolina, where Raymond served for many years on the Local Spiritual Assembly; lead seekers and fellow believers alike in Ruhi book study; and enjoyed holidays and fellowship with family, friends and neighbors throughout the years.One of Raymond’s many joys and passions during this time in his life was communion, service, and fellowship with the Bahá’í Black Men’s Gathering. Whether teaching the Bahá’í Faith in Ghana with the brothers during the 1990s, or attending meetings in Maine, Savannah, other cities in South Carolina and beyond, the mutual respect, bonds of friendship, and shared faith with the men of the gathering brought him great spiritual sustenance and tremendous joy, such that he looked forward to each new event like a child anticipating their birthday.
In 2010 he briefly left retirement to lead a government team during the US Census process in Florence, and in 2019 he was recognized as an outstanding citizen of the state for this “patriotism, fidelity and abilities” and thus appointed by the President of the United States to the Selective Service Committee of South Carolina. Raymond Austin Collins ascended to the glories of the Abhá Kingdom on June 21, 2021, the very day of his birth, completing full circle a blessed and beautiful life of service and adventure that took him from Spain, Germany, Jamaica, Egypt, Madagascar, South Africa, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Israel, Ethiopia, England, and Mexico to name some, but not all of the nations he was blessed to witness in this earthly life.
He’s survived by his beloved wife Beverly, his children Michael Steven and Camille, a daughter-in-law Daying Zhang, Grandson Tian Chen Zhang, great- grand-daughter Claire, nephew Victor Thompson, niece Tammy Thompson, and other beloved members of the Collins and Ewart branches of the family tree. Likewise, he is mourned by lifelong friends, new friends, and his beloved brothers of the Bahá’í Black Men’s gathering.
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