“I can’t do the courtroom chant like John did. I don’t think anybody can,” Sheriff Chris Dickinson told the crowd gathered in the Itawamba County Courthouse. “He did his job with a sense of duty and understood what his job was with the people. He can’t be replaced. We’ll just have to do the best we can.”
An honorable man, a man of character, and a man of service...those were just a few of the words recently used to describe John Collins who served as bailiff for 12 years in the Itawamba County Courthouse.
On January 1, Collins died after suffering a heart attack while battling COVID-19. He was 75-years-old.
Dickinson said his legacy was a life-long career in public service and of doing things the right way, right down his chanting of, “All rise. Oyez. Oyez.”
“When someone like John Collins shows up in your office, you listen,” Dickinson said. “He’s the kind of man you want, with integrity and character.”
Collins graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in biological sciences. He retired from a distinguished career as a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and worked with the Mississippi Game and Fish, where he retired as Chief of Law Enforcement. He also served in the Army.
Collins and his wife, Linda, moved to Itawamba County 15 years ago. A few years later, he stepped into the bailiff position, keeping law and order in the county’s courts.
On April 23, Collins's family and friends gathered in the courtroom where he spent many of his days. County officials, law enforcement, attorneys, and judges were among the speakers and guests in attendance for the dedication of a plaque in his honor. It now hangs near the chair where the former bailiff spent many days.
Circuit Judge Michael P. “Chip” Mills, Jr. told the group he first met Collins 10 years ago and had treasured his friendship throughout his tenure as county prosecutor and in private practice.
“Mr. John was a person of integrity. He made this courthouse a better place,” Mills said. “He led by example and I am a better person from having known John.”
Pam Dines, Itawamba County Deputy Chancery Clerk said she and Collins forged an almost immediate friendship when he began the part-time bailiff position. She told the group his exemplary character was not just limited to his career but was a part of his overall nature. She experienced it first hand when Collins discretely sought to secure a reserved parking place for her when health issues made it difficult to walk long distances.
“That’s the kind of person he was,” she told the group. “He was deeply loved by his courthouse family. He would not want this recognition. This is just our way of saying, ‘Thank you, John.’”
Collins's wife, Linda, thanked those in attendance at the end of the ceremony. She shared with the group how they met and how her husband's personal life and career were one of honor.
She recalled an arrest he had made while the couple lived in Alaska. Drugs, money, and polar bear hides were among the items he confiscated. She said if Collins was ever asked about the temptation to withhold any of the items taken during a bust, his answer was always the same.
“First, he said, he would have to answer to himself and then he would say he would have to answer to God,” she told those in attendance. “He was an honorable man. It’s who he was. John always did the right thing.”
Collins ended by saying the subject of retiring was one that her husband would not discuss.
“He was not going to retire,” she smiled as she looked out across the crowd gathered in his honor. “I never understood that until today.”