With two of his kids in the room with him, Desmond Harold Collins, died in Toronto on Friday, April 28 2023 of a dementia-related illness. He was 85 years old.
Des’s life was the life of a practicing Scientist, an invertebrate paleontologist who loved to collect fossils and whose work at the Burgess Shale (a World Heritage Site) in the Canadian Rockies fuelled the scientific publications of other more famous paleontologists. He was thrilled to see citations for his work showing up in Stephen Jay Gould’s books, for instance. He was also thrilled to host National Geographic and other TV crews when they took helicopters up to film Des’s excavation work. His most famous find – a one-of-a-kind fossil which he colloquially named “Santa Claus” – he tucked in a handkerchief in his shirt pocket and carried around, gleefully, for weeks. While the recently opened “Dawn of Life” gallery at the Royal Ontario Museum was completed by his talented successor, Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, it was started and passionately advocated for by Des during his long tenure at the R.O.M as a Curator. Des lugged huge slide carousels to international symposia, and visited other fossil sites in China, Russia, Texas and his birth country, Australia.
Fossils were his way of seeing the world. Fossils took him from Perth, Australia to his PhD in Iowa where he met his wife. Fossils introduced him to the communities of museum curators and amateur collectors. Fossils gave him the chance to mentor graduate students including (the now) Dr. Diego Garcia-Bellido. All three of his children knew that their Dad was at his most relaxed when striding through the Burgess Shale or Mt. Stephen camp sites.
Des’s devotion to fossils was made possible by having an independent-minded and supportive wife, Suzanne Collins (nee Reider). When she died in 2019, he lost the one person who could change his mind about anything and the one person who persisted in bringing the social world to him through dinners with his kids, outings with neighbors. He struggled without her. He repeated frequently at the end of his life that she was the best thing about his life.
Des leaves behind his three children, Kate, Matthew and Peter and his daughter-in-law (and fellow geologist), Dr. Leslie Reid. He also leaves behind his nephew, Neil Macpherson and Neil’s wife, Liz - both of whom went above-and-beyond in dealings with Des - and Neil Macpherson’s siblings, Ross, Ewen, Judith and Mericia as well as his ‘Collins’ nieces and nephews Kim, Mark, Allison, Diane, and his cousin, Jan.
There will be a Celebration of Life for Des at some point in the next year or so. In the meantime, people who knew Des and want info from the family about his Celebration of Life can sign the online Memorial Book on this website. If you are so moved, please donate to the R.O.M.