Ronnie Collins didn’t do a lot of fretting over his retirement date. He always figured that he’d stop working when he hit his 65th birthday.
“I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do, so that’s what I did,” he said.
Besides, he’d gotten tired of the ever-increasing red tape connected to the job that he’d once loved.
“I drove a truck,” he said. “I’d deliver stuff and I’d pick up stuff. I enjoyed the camaraderie with co-workers and customers, but I didn’t much like the new technology. The cameras in trucks – it just seemed like all they wanted to do was get you to do something to screw up. During the early years, all I ever heard was the customer’s always right. It was a customer-driven business. Now it’s a company-driven business.
“I’ve still got good friends in other cities. You can’t find better people than East Tennessee people.”
This isn’t surprising because even while he was working, Collins has always had time for people. Although he reported to work before the sun came up, the first Monday night of the month would find him presiding over Alice Bell Spring Hill Neighborhood Association meetings – he’s been president of ABSHNA more than 25 years, give or take a few days.
Now, three years into retirement, he’s put together a new routine. He’s still an early riser; he gets up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. and doesn’t need an alarm clock. After enjoying a quiet cup of coffee, he goes walking with some friends (his wife, Sharon, sleeps in awhile). If the weather is good he meets his walking buddies at New Harvest Park. If it’s raining, they go to East Towne Mall and wait for the doors to be unlocked at 6:45. And then they walk – and walk and walk – usually until at least 8 a.m. He generally memorializes those morning walks on Facebook. He’ll share a spectacular sunrise or an interesting wildlife scene he saw along the trail, as well as a cheery morning greeting as kind of a daily valentine to his friends and Facebook followers.
Afterward, he’ll go home and read the paper, not online – “I still read the paper.”
Then it’s meeting time. Collins goes to all of them.
“You need to go to meetings to know what’s going on,” he said. “The city sent out 78,000 letters about Recode Knoxville, and people are panicking. I didn’t see the letter, but I’ve been to the meetings and I see no reason to panic. They’re not changing zoning …”
Here’s a look at his calendar for the second week of March:
“I’m probably going to Town Hall East Monday night because they’re going to be talking about better schools,” he said. “And tomorrow I’m going to be doing some chauffeuring – going to take my friend Hubert Smith to the Schmoozapalooza, a Chamber of Commerce thing at the Expo Center.”
A brownbag lunch at the East Tennessee History Center is on his Wednesday agenda, and he was looking forward to hearing about a powerful explosive made at Holston Ordnance Works in Kingsport. He was also considering an East Tennessee Development District forum but wasn’t sure he’d be able to make it. But he was definitely planning to attend a meeting on redevelopment of the St. Mary’s building at the Oakwood Lincoln Park Neighborhood Center. On Friday, he planned to go to a meeting of the Burlington Collaborative. That night he was planning to go to the museum to hear Silas House talk about Wilma Dykeman. The Shamrock Festival starts at Market Square that day, too, and he planned to check it out.
“Saturday gets busier,” he said, listing a rummage sale at Alice Bell Baptist Church, day two of the Shamrock Festival, a Spring Fling Expo at Chilhowee Park, Women in Jazz with Kelle Jolly at East Towne and the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade downtown at 1 p.m.
Collins, who was recently elected president of the Fulton High School Alumni Association, said he enjoys every minute of his busy schedule.
“I just like going and learning. I think this is a beautiful city, and I love taking pictures and showing it off. I get so many people that don’t live in Knoxville thanking me.”
This is a city election year, so he plans to hit a bunch of candidate forums as they are scheduled. His is one of those influential votes that candidates covet. In addition to having a prime yard-sign location, he’s also somebody whose opinion matters to others.
But here’s a hint to aspiring city officeholders who’d love to put their signs in front of his Washington Pike home:
“I don’t do parties. I have no idea what party anybody (who is running for mayor or City Council) belongs to, and I don’t care.”
He said he’s never been a single-issue voter during his time as president of one of the most active neighborhood groups in the city.
“I’ve never said if you don’t vote our way on this, we’ll be against you,” he said. “I just tell them, I’m giving you our side, and I’m asking for your support. Just give your opinion and ask for support. And that’s about all you can do.”