Dr. Bob and Louise Collier were honored Friday in what committee chair Dr. Donald Wegener called a first in the 35-year history of the Powell Man and Woman of the Year awards.
“This is the first time we have selected a couple,” said Wegener. He teased the audience a bit before revealing the honorees. The Colliers donated 12 acres adjacent to the Powell Branch Library to the Legacy Parks Foundation this year. It will be developed as the Collier Preserve.
Hard work defines this couple, Wegener said. “Bob remembers times when he only saw his kids awake on weekends. He worked many 70-hour weeks and was on-call constantly. When he was home, though, he gardened. And Louise learned to can. She had no other choice as the baskets of green beans, okra and apples filled her kitchen.
Bob Collier’s career as a general surgeon was legendary. In retirement, he continued to serve on church mission trips and as a writer and preservationist. A collection of his writings will be published in fall 2018 by the UT Press.
He graduated from Central High School in 1957. Bob 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,” he says.
Next came college, then medical school at UT Memphis where Bob graduated in 1963, third in his class. 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 near Salt Lake City, Utah.
Bob returned to Knoxville in 1971, 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 their farm in Union County and traveling.
Louise Thompson Collier grew up in Chattanooga where her father worked for TVA. After two years at UT Knoxville, she transferred to UT Memphis for a degree in medical technology. Bob came to Memphis one year later, and when she graduated they were married in 1960. She remembers hospital lab work “before all the machines,” when the technicians would separate blood and boil the serum to screen for abnormalities. She worked in children’s hospitals in Memphis and Atlanta. Their two sons, Bobby and the late Ries, were born in Atlanta. Their daughter, Lara, was born in Knoxville.
Louise remembers her volunteer work at Sterchi Elementary School and Gresham. She spent more time on the ballfields than perhaps she wanted … and served as a Cub Scout leader where she encountered snakes. (“You can’t show fear with little boys,” she says.) Fountain City Presbyterian Church was a family hub, and Louise sang in the choir. The Colliers continue as members there.
In 1981, they built their present home (behind Powell Methodist Church). And Louise sometimes misses her scattered family. Son Bobby is an engineer in Alabama, daughter Lara is a chef/owner, with her husband, of a restaurant in Vermont. Grandsons live in Nebraska and Boston.
Their special gift to Powell was a portion of his Granny Stella Moore Collier’s farm, where she raised her son, Robert H. Collier Sr., after her husband died. She was a hard worker, too. And when she died, she divided the farm between Bob and his brother. “She was my favorite person, and her farm was my favorite place growing up,” Bob once said.
Bob and Louise donated land for the Powell Branch Library. And now they’ve given land for the Collier Preserve – a place where kids can explore nature and everyone can find solitude close to home.
Louise says she and Bob donated the property for one reason: “We want to save a little more of what was our land and what was Powell.”