Robert Collins, professor emeritus of history at UCSB, passed away last Friday at the age of 75.
Collins began his career at UCSB in 1965 and served as dean of the graduate division from 1970 to 1980. He was honored with the status of professor emeritus in 1994 but continued to research, teach and publish in the field of African history until his death. Collins passed away from liver cancer after being diagnosed in January of this year.
According to his closest friend Ronald W. Tobin, the associate vice chancellor for academic programs and a campus French professor, Collins wished to be cremated and have his ashes sprinkled over the Grand Canyon but requested not to have a memorial service.
Tobin said the two first became friends when they started their careers together at Williams College in 1961 – a friendship he continues to recall and cherish.
“I still remember the good times we had together,” Tobin said. “He was known as a great host. He always wore a red leather vest when serving drinks. A lot of people are going to miss him, but I’m probably going to miss him the most.”
Dr. Collins received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1959 and went on to teach at William College and Columbia University before finding his home at UCSB. Throughout his lifetime he contributed over fifty years of research in the field of African history and was considered a leading historian and scholar on the southern region of Sudan.
History Department Chair professor Sears McGee, who has worked with professor Collins since 1971, described his colleague as a asset to the campus and an expert in his field of study.
“He really made an important contribution to the campus as a whole,” McGee said. “He was the go-to guy on what was happening in Africa. If you consult historians who specialize in African history, I think you would find that he would be on a short list of the most prolific and active scholars in African history in the world.”
McGee said he also fondly remembered Collins’ quirks including his memorable automobile, which always signified his presence on campus.
“He drove a very old, yellow VW bug from the ’60s, which he kept in excellent repair,” McGee said. “You always knew when Bob was around because you couldn’t miss that car.”
Tobin described Collins as a charismatic and talented storyteller.
“He was a strong personality,” Tobin said. “He had a really good sense of humor and he was a really good storyteller, using a narrative mode in his research. He could spin a good yarn orally and he could write a good yarn in his books.”
Collins had published eight histories on Darfur, Sudan, southern Sudan, and the Nile River, printed from 1962 to 2006. During his time as dean of the graduate division, he personally guided 35 doctoral programs and 45 masters programs. He had also published 15 books since his retirement in 1994. Tobin said Collins’ death is especially tragic in light of recent global events.
“One of the saddest things about his demise is that we need him now more than ever because he is the predominant specialist of Sudan and Darfur,” Collins said.