Central to honor Dr. Bob Collier, writer and surgeon

Sandra ClarkFountain City, Powell

Four worthy Bobcats will be honored at the 16th annual Central High School Wall of Fame Banquet at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, in the commons at Gresham Middle School, 500 Gresham Road. The event will feature a video of the honorees: Conrad L. Majors Jr., the late Hazel Ogg Costa, Dr. Bob Collier (CHS 1957) and the Rev. Bill Nickle (CHS 1957). Tickets are $25 and are available at the CHS office and from CHS Alumni and Foundation representatives. Info: R. Larry Smith, 865-922-5433, or Courtney Shea at courtshea@aol.com.

Dr. Bob Collier’s wildlife columns motivate readers to grab the binoculars, pack the grip and head out to the wonderful refuges, hills and lakes of the Southeast. Those of us who have enjoyed armchair birding, and insights into our local culture through Collier’s columns are eagerly anticipating the publication of a collection of his writings by the University of Tennessee Press, expected in fall of 2018.

This 1957 graduate of Central High School has also served his community as a noted surgeon and preservationist. On Thursday, Nov. 9, he will be inducted into Central High School’s “Wall of Fame.” Robert H. Collier Jr. has deep roots in Knox County. His great grandfather bought land in the Powell area in 1890. His grandmother, Stella Moore Collier, lived on and farmed a portion of that land until she died at 84.

Her son, Robert H. Collier Sr., was a personnel officer for the Tennessee Valley Authority, moving often with his wife, Barbara Ries Collier, as the young federal agency started new projects. In 1945, the Collier family settled in Knoxville, with their two sons, Robert Jr. and Ries. Young Bob Collier attended Sequoyah Elementary, Staub School (near the University of Tennessee), and then Inskip Grammar for fourth through eighth grade. O’Dell Willis, Central’s legendary band director, came to Inskip to start a band program to train and recruit interested students for Central’s band program. He personally refurbished Collier Sr.’s saxophone for the son to use at Inskip.

Central High School graduates Bill Nickle and Bob Collier stand at Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center, founded by Nickle, when Collier visited to lead a birding trip.

Collier started Central in 1953, and proudly served all four years in O’Dell Willis’ Central Marching and Concert Bands, transitioning from saxophone to alto clarinet. “The four years of Band gave me continuity and a sense of really belonging to something all through high school.” Collier cites to the discipline of band as formative. His close friend, classmate, and fellow honoree, Bill Nickle, played cornet during the same four years. The Central Band also provided students exposure to other parts of the country. Collier’s freshman year, the band marched in the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City (in the rain) and came in fourth in the nation. Another tour included concerts in St. Augustine and Daytona Beach, Florida; a third tour included several towns in Willis’ home state of Kentucky. In addition to playing at football games and seasonal concerts, the band competed in festivals. Sixty years later, Collier still recalls his clarinet part in the “William Tell Overture,” which received a top score during a music festival his senior year.

The positive atmosphere at Central was encouraged by principal H. G. Loy, “a kind, firm person with a steady hand on the tiller,” recalls Collier. He also cites to a number of influential teachers in science and math as well as Mrs. Pace Moore Johnson, his teacher for two years of Latin, “we still quote various sayings of hers today.” His history and guidance counselor, Mrs. Lucy Asbury, was Collier’s third cousin and a smiling presence at the school.

Collier had the opportunity to spend a summer in Germany as a part of an American Field Service exchange program. Central hosted foreign students during the school year and was then eligible to send students to other countries for the summer. Collier was selected as one of Central’s two exchange students for the summer of 1956, and lived with a family in Germany. Collier and a son from the family bicycled 1,000 miles through southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria. “It was an experience that enlarged the world for me in people, sights and sounds, history and geography.”

After graduation from Central, he attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, as he was considering a career as an engineer. After one year he changed his goal to medicine and enrolled in the pre-med program at UT in Knoxville, from 1958 to 1960. In an English class at UT, he became acquainted with a fellow student, Louise Thompson, who shared his love of hiking and birding. They were married in 1960, with fellow Central graduate Bill Nickle as Bob’s best man.

Bob Collier completed his medical degree at UT Medical Units in Memphis in 1963, graduating third in his class. Now Dr. Collier, he completed his internship and residency in Atlanta, then served for two years in the U. S. Air Force as a general surgeon with the rank of major, at Hill Air Force Base, north of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Collier returned to Knoxville, eventually establishing a practice in general and vascular surgery. His medical career included serving as chief of staff of St. Mary’s Hospital, performing Knoxville’s first laparoscopic gall bladder surgery, serving as director of a wound center and assisting with disaster relief missions. With his retirement in 2012, he and Louise have more time to spend birding, enjoying his farm in Union County and traveling.

His passion for the natural world led him to writing and education. Bob and Louise lead hikes and give talks at a North Carolina resort, “The Swag,” adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Collier has helped develop outdoor classrooms in Halls and Powell, and served as a nature guide at Ijams Nature Center in South Knoxville. His bird walks are popular and well attended.

His interest in environmental stewardship led him to assist with founding the Beaver Creek Watershed Association which worked in partnership with other organizations to study and address issues of water quality and flooding in this creek, running from Gibbs to Solway, in the vicinity of Emory Road. The Hallsdale Powell Utility District presented him with an Environmental Stewardship Award recognizing his many years of effort to improve the quality of water and preserve the environmental values of the watershed.

Their grandmother passed away in 1967, and the family farm along Emory Road ultimately came to Bob and his brother, Ries. Bob and Louise’s interest in conservation led to the generous donation of several acres on which the county has now constructed the Powell Branch Library, and the donation of 12 acres for an adjacent natural preserve, restricted from development to provide an enduring refuge for the Powell community.

Bob and Louise Collier have two children and three grandchildren. Son Bobby is an engineer in Alabama, and daughter Lara is a chef/owner, with her husband, of a restaurant in Vermont.

This story was written by Courtney Shea

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *