On Sunday, January 24th, 2021 Mary-Elizabeth Collins (maiden name: Davies) passed away peacefully at the age of 97 at Van Dyk Park Place in Hawthorne, New Jersey. She was born on May 19th, 1923 in Brooklyn, NY, moving with her family to Ridgewood, New Jersey at the age of five. Over the course of her long, vibrant life, New Jersey would be a place she always called home.
Mary-Elizabeth was preceded in death by her parents, Harry and Ella Davies (Ridgewood, NJ) and her husband of 48 years, Reverend John Robert Collins (fondly referred to as Jack by family and friends). She is survived by her brother, Robert Bruce Davies (wife Mary Ellen), her three children, Karen Collins (husband David), Nancy Klein (husband Gene), Michael Collins (wife Stephanie), and five grandchildren.
Mary-Elizabeth was blessed with an abundance of musical talent. She began harp lessons at the age of ten studying under renowned harpist Mildred Dilling, started playing professionally at age 17, and became a soloist with the Ridgewood Symphony at the age of 18. She would continue to lug around her harps over the course of an impressive 68-year career. She performed hundreds of concerts around the world from Wisconsin to New Jersey, to South America, Hong Kong and the famous Radio City Music Hall and the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. She annually played the Christmas Eve services at her beloved West Side Presbyterian Church (“West Side”) whenever she was in New Jersey. The harp was a lifelong love and commitment, and she continued performing until her final gig at the age of 85.
She was a teacher at heart. Mary-Elizabeth derived a lot of joy in nurturing and developing others, and not just her own children and grandchildren. We would be remiss not to mention the hundreds of harp students who were on the receiving end of her patience, encouragement and music lessons. She taught until the age of 87, sometimes up to 16 students per week!
Mary-Elizabeth graduated from Ridgewood High School and earned her bachelor's degree in Music and Music Education from New Jersey College for Women, known today as Douglass Residential College at Rutgers University.
Following World War II, Jack Collins (also of Ridgewood) came courting and he and Mary-Elizabeth were married in 1946. They were the first couple to be married at West Side following the war. West Side was a second home, a loving community, and a fixture in the lives of the Collins and Davies families. Jack was the first congregant at West Side to be ordained as a Presbyterian minister.
Jack’s ministerial calling moved them to Madison, Wisconsin (in 1949) where their three children were born. Then they returned to New Jersey and the charming town of Shrewsbury where Jack became Senior Pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury. But their adventuring was far from over--in 1966 the family moved again. This time to Hong Kong where Jack worked for the National Council of Churches USA and the East Asia Christian Conference. Undeterred and undaunted by the new culture and change of scenery, Mary-Elizabeth helped the family settle and thrive in their new home, church, culture, and British schools, embracing many expected and unexpected adventures along the way. Upon returning from Hong Kong in 1971, Mary-Elizabeth and Jack settled in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey and renewed their membership at West Side Presbyterian Church.
Anyone who knew Mary-Elizabeth knows that she avoided boredom at all costs. Besides being a professional harpist, harp teacher, traveler, and mother of three, she took on roles as treasurer of Mission and Social Concerns at West Side Presbyterian Church and as treasurer of the Board of Youth Self-Development in Paterson, NJ. She was athletic and active, graceful on the tennis courts, a capable sailor, and a frequent first baseman for the neighborhood baseball games growing up. She was an avid reader and could be found each morning with the New York Times and a muffin in hand. And her creative talents went beyond her music! They also showed up in various passion projects including (but not limited to) knitting, refinishing furniture, caning chairs, gardening, and finding uniquely creative ways of gifting a roll of stamps disguised as something else.
Mary-Elizabeth Collins was nothing short of incredible. We will remember her generosity, her dedication to the people she loved, and to the larger good, to doing God's will in the world. She was fun and adventurous, living life to the fullest. While we all wish she’d passed on her excellent sense of direction and inner compass (she always knew which direction was North), we’ll be ever grateful for the direction she did provide time and time again through wise guidance and encouragement. She was endlessly supportive--generous with her time and with her love. We’re all better humans for it. We love you Mary-Elizabeth, rest peacefully.
West Side Presbyterian Church, Ridgewood, New Jersey, will be live streaming Mary-Elizabeth’s memorial service on Saturday, February 27th at 2:00 pm. The computer link is:
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in Mary-Elizabeth’s honor to either:
- Youth Self-Development, David Martin, Treasurer, 23 Twin Oaks Drive, Montvale, NJ 07645. Mary-Elizabeth was a devoted Board Member and a leader in the YSD Tutoring Program for over 20 years.
- The Southern Poverty Law Center, 400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, AL 36104; 334-956-8408; donate.splcenter.org. Mary-Elizabeth supported SPLC’s work for many years, because she was deeply concerned about the racism and hate group violence in our country.
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