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Bill Collins dies in car accident

Former Mayor Bill Collins shows off his Berkeley Street house in 2015, complete with a newly painted door titled, “I’m sorry, Mr. Selleck is not home.” Collins hoped to start a trend of painted doors in Norwalk.

Bill Collins and Tish Gibbs receive the Nancy Benedict Social Justice Award in 2018. (CCAG)

Updated, 3 p.m. Saturday: Thoughts from The Maritime Aquarium.

NORWALK, Conn. — Former Norwalk Mayor Bill Collins has died at age 87.

Collins was driving to California to visit a family member and was in a one-car accident, according to Michelle Gibbs, his daughter-in-law. Police called her Thursday night and notified her, she said. The accident was in or near Farmington, N.M. Police think he fell asleep at the wheel.

Colins was State Representative for District 140 from 1974 to 1977, and Mayor from 1977 to 1981 and from 1983 to 1987. Born and raised in Norwalk, he founded Minuteman Media, which later became OtherWords, in 1998. His political history also includes three terms on the Common Council. He was a Korean War veteran and former national board member of Veterans for Peace.

Collins never stopped trying to make Norwalk a better place, routinely speaking to the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency on topics such as affordable housing and redevelopment plans, and issuing opinions for publication in news outlets. From 2013-15, he led a SoNo Task Force.

Collins had two stepsons through his marriage to Elizabeth Villa “Tish” Gibbs, according to Michelle Gibbs. He had three grandchildren. Tish Gibbs died a year ago.

“I am heartbroken by this news and praying for his family,” Norwalk Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez said in an email to the DTC.

Former Mayor Alex Knopp released a statement:

“Bill Collins was the architect of Norwalk’s modern urban government. His policies of staff professionalization, active city planning, support for education, historical preservation, using the Maritime Aquarium for tourism as a city economic development, and support for affordable housing all laid the foundation for the modern successful city that Norwalk has become.

“His rescue of the SoNo downtown from the wrecker’s ball became known as one of the most important urban preservation projects in the country.

“Bill was my closest friend in Norwalk. I served as Council president when he was Mayor and got hooked on how city government functions. He was the first person to urge me to run for Mayor. Bill presided at my wedding and our families went on many vacation trips together to walk the streets and parks in other states.

“Recently I tried to take Bill out for lunch every few weeks and was saddened to witness his loss of energy and hearing. Norwalk owes him a lot and my family will dearly miss him.”

 

Former Mayor Bill Collins, right, marches as a Veteran for Peace in the 2015 Memorial Day parade.

Former City Clerk Donna King, who led the Democratic Town Committee for years, said, “Bill Collins and Tish Gibbs pioneered in the area of urban preservation and development.  The Recycling program in Norwalk was their baby.  They were a strong team in so many important areas, especially as leaders for affordable housing.  As Common Council members, we learned so much about how government works from them. They will be missed.”

The Maritime Aquarium was a cornerstone of Collins’ plan to revitalize South Norwalk, the Aquarium said in a Saturday statement, mourning his loss.

“Without his bold leadership urging preservation of the past as a launch pad to the future, we and our beloved SoNo would not be here today,” stated Clay Fowler, chair of The Maritime Aquarium Board of Trustees.

“Bill was a true friend and a visionary for Norwalk,” said Christopher du P. Roosevelt, founder of The Maritime Aquarium. “He initiated the South Norwalk redevelopment process, stuck with it through thick and thin, and was an ultimately practical leader who got things done. He truly cared about the people of his community and worked hard to better his community and his neighbors. We all are the better for his commitment and will miss his leadership, care, and humorous light touch.”

The full statement is reviewed here.

Kay Anderson and Bruce Kimmel, District D Democrats, knew Collins well.

“Bruce and I are so sad – we will miss Bill, our dear friend and neighbor, and just an all-around wonderful human being,” Anderson wrote. “We loved him and we loved Tish.”

“We had a long history,” said former Mayor Richard Moccia, a Republican. “I served as Fire Commissioner for a time during one of his terms.  During his time, he did much to modernize Norwalk and move it forward.  I did not agree with Bill on many issues, both locally and nationally. But I respected his dedication and knowledge of the workings of government.”

“The loss of former Mayor Bill Collins is a tragedy for Norwalk,” Mayor Harry Rilling said. “He was a highly respected individual and Mayor. He had tremendous love for Norwalk and through his leadership and deep commitment to giving back to the community, made a lasting impact on our city. He was especially passionate about issues such as affordable housing and finding ways to help the less fortunate. He has certainly left an enduring mark on our community and we will miss him.”

Former Mayor Bill Collins, at the 2019 ribbon cutting for Soundview Landing.

40 comments

Jason Milligan July 22, 2022 at 3:35 pm

Bill Collins was a good man. He had a positive impact on Norwalk. He was a big supporter of public art and he and I spoke often about that topic.

R.I.P. Bill

Norwalk will miss you.

Jane Walters July 22, 2022 at 3:36 pm

A terrible loss for his family and for the city he loved. Condolences to his family; RIP Bill.

Tedd Levy July 22, 2022 at 4:00 pm

The tragic loss of Bill Collins is a loss for Norwalk and all of Connecticut. Bill was a talented, conscientious, dedicated and determined resident who devoted a lifetime to bettering Norwalk and Connecticut. Whether you agreed with him or not, you knew that he was thoughtful and sincere in his many efforts to improve his community and the people who inhabited it. He was an authentic and outstanding example of a public spirited citizen. The world can use more people like Bill Collins.

longtimedem July 22, 2022 at 4:39 pm

People will no doubt say a lot about Bill and his accomplishments. What always struck me, though, was his devotion to his home town, something that lasted a lifetime. Someone like Bill who stuck around (his last term as mayor ended almost 35 years ago), stayed involved and took part in the life of the city in the ways he thought most meaningful — these are the people who give Norwalk its center of gravity, its continuity, its heart. Principled, stubborn, frustrating (sometimes) and good-hearted. Rest in peace, Bill, you’ve earned it.

Stuart Garrelick July 22, 2022 at 4:47 pm

Sat with Bill at the recent Sister City Project fund raiser. We agreed to go to dinner. Never got to it. Great reason to never put things off. He was a wonderful man and without knowing him well, I really liked him.
A definite loss for Norwalk.

Susan Weinberger July 22, 2022 at 5:55 pm

Ah, Bill. Came to Frank Fay’s memorial service and spoke about their beloved history together. Funny stories shared. Saw him in May at the Norwalk Community College Foundation celebration. He and Tish contributed every year to scholarships. He loved Norwalk. No argument. I will miss him.💜💜

Justataxpayer July 22, 2022 at 5:55 pm

RIP mr Collins. I first lived in CT in the late 80s when there were maybe 2-3 bards in Washington Street. Thanks for saving SoNo from the wrecking ball as well as Mayor Esposito who no doubt had a hand in future improvements. Seeing Mayor Mocciae’s comments I’m reminded of what Calf Pasture used to be like – thanks for his leadership as well in making it a true destination for citizens and visitors.

Fred Wilms July 22, 2022 at 6:01 pm

My condolences to Bill’s family. When I chaired the BET Bill would reach out to me from time to time. While politically we were on opposite sides, all of our conversations were engaging and constructive. I got to learn about how his time in the US Army inspired him as Mayor to turnaround SoNo. He truly loved Norwalk and we are a better place today because of him.

Barbara Meyer-Mitchell July 22, 2022 at 6:24 pm

Bill was a gentleman and gave everything he had to improving Norwalk. We will miss he and Tisch as neighbors and community leaders. I learned a lot from them both.

Tod Bryant July 22, 2022 at 7:41 pm

This is very sad news. Bill was a friend and a great example of committed, ethical political leadership. I knew him best as “The Mayor who saved SONO,” but that was only one of his many accomplishments. He was a courageous man who, along with Tish, was truly dedicated to Norwalk.

M. Jeffry Spahr July 22, 2022 at 7:53 pm

He did so much for our town. He is owed such a debt of gratitude. I know I cannot thank him enough for appointing me as legal counsel for the City in 1987. Rest In Peace Bill. You have earned it.

Mark Albertson July 22, 2022 at 8:49 pm

One of the most endearing attributes William had was an infectious sense of humor. But most of all, will miss the intellectual conversations pertaining to history, current events and politics in this era of Facebook and Twitter. . .

Greg Dunn July 22, 2022 at 9:06 pm

Had the opportunity to work with Bill when I was fresh out of grad school during SoNo revitalization. Fond memories back then all the way to more recent meetings of Democracy For America at Silver Star Diner. Forward thinker, very approachable, mentor with a healthy dose of Irish wit. Miss you but will never forget you.

Piberman July 22, 2022 at 9:44 pm

Bill Collins had the wonderful quality is being pleasant and helpful to everyone he met independent of their Party affiliation. His passing reminds us a far different Norwalk in which old fashioned courtesy was part of our body politic.

Paul Cantor July 22, 2022 at 9:54 pm

Bill and his wife Tish Gibbs never gave up the fight to make our city, our country and the world we live in a better place for everyone. They will be sorely missed.

Nora King July 22, 2022 at 10:21 pm

Bill was a great guy. I loved to discuss all of his philosophies on urban development. An extremely kind man. His wife Tish and Bill I got to know even better through their Sister City Project. Norwalk/Nagarote. Mike Barbis was good friends with them and even went on one of the trips there and supported them in this endeavor. I am sure losing Trish last year was tough on him and now he can find peace in Heaven with her.

LA Lengyel July 23, 2022 at 12:29 am

This is absolutely devastating. I grew up with him from elementary school Like family to me. Prayers and love to his family.

Susan Wallerstein July 23, 2022 at 7:04 am

Friend & mentor – legacy continues through all whose lives were touched by this smart, caring man.

Susan Mansfield July 23, 2022 at 10:45 am

Frank White, my husband, and I are so sad that we will never see Bill again. We were fortunate to spend time with him recently at our annual Memorial party that he always enjoyed. He was a wonderful human being, so interested in the world, a gentle man in every way. Bill was happiest when he was on the open road discovering new places and meeting new people and while we often worried about him when he ventured off the beaten track, I can imagine that he would not be sad to die doing what he loved.

Peter Franz July 23, 2022 at 11:22 am

It is fair to say Bill Collins’ contributions to Norwalk are too many to count. We are all indebted to his tireless work. Rest in peace.

Susan Nial July 23, 2022 at 11:44 am

I am deeply saddened by Bill’s death. He was a unique individual. He was the embodiment of public service. Bill was committed to Norwalk and to public service. When he was Mayor I served on the City Council with him and to this day I carry with me his message that we work for the people, to make their lives better.

A little anecdote from my time on the Council encapsulates his philosophy. All of the Democratic council members were in the conference room at City Hall and he mentioned that he noticed that some of us had affixed our council member shields to our cars. He said take them off. That isn’t why we’re are here.

Toddy Turrentine July 23, 2022 at 12:49 pm

Bill was such a great guy. I loved talking with him because he was so knowledgeable about area government, policy and politics.

John Levin July 23, 2022 at 3:56 pm

Bill Collins and Tish Gibbs were among the first people Diane and I met when we moved to Norwalk 31 years ago. We were delighted to discover that our new home had such wonderful people, and we remained friends for three decades.

We learned so much from Bill. He was visionary and strategic, deliberate and dedicated in his actions – an outstanding role model for social activism and seeking positive change. He recognized that systemic change was the best goal but that small incremental change was good too and that likelihood of success was not the only determinant of a worthwhile effort.

Bill had a wry and biting sense of humor. And yet he would not criticize others, even when they behaved foolishly. The most you might get out of him was a sliver of tacit agreement that that was the case. Do such people even exist anymore?

IF there is a heaven, I am reasonably certain that Bill already is at work trying to make it better.

Karen Howes July 23, 2022 at 8:01 pm

Bill was such a wonderful person… I have been involved with Sister city Norwalk/Nicaragua for years.. Always enjoyed Bill and Tish’s company.

Michael Lubell July 23, 2022 at 10:58 pm

I met Bill shortly after I moved to Westport and became Democratic Town Chair. We collaborated on (and occasionally sparred over) regional, state and national political issues and initiatives. I admired his honesty, intellect, sense of purpose and above all his commitment to ethical conduct. He was a visionary and a leader in preservation at a time when urban renewal often resulted in bulldozing buildings and destroying the social fabric of communities. Norwalk and Southwestern Connecticut are far better today because of Bill’s efforts. I will miss his wit and wisdom.

Elsa Peterson Obuchowski July 23, 2022 at 11:07 pm

Among the many causes Bill and Tish supported was the League of Women Voters. It was an honor and a pleasure to have them as members.
There is so much more that could be said, but others have said it better.
Sending love and wishes for a peaceful heavenly rest.

Steve July 24, 2022 at 8:46 am

I never met Bill Collins but as a South Norwalk resident I have enormously benefitted from his work and dedication to the City. I am struck by the wide range of voices here and hope that the good will and kindness shown here goes beyond Bill’s passing and begins an era of good feelings. David Brooks oft says live your eulogy and not your resume.

Douglass Davidoff July 24, 2022 at 11:27 am

My parents, Jerry and Denny Davidoff, moved to Norwalk during the 1980s after raising my brother and me in Westport. Active in business, legal, and civic affairs across Fairfield County and Connecticut, they greatly admired Mayor Collins. No doubt, the opportunity to be citizens in his city was part of the draw for their move to Norwalk where they owned two homes in succession prior to my father’s death in 2009. They enjoyed spending meals with the Collinses and spoke often of them to me (I was living in Indiana at the time).

I spent many years as a news reporter in North Carolina and Indiana, and I saw local government up close in Raleigh and Indianapolis, two cities fortunate to have decades of capable mayoral leadership. It’s so very clear and fortunate that Norwalk has enjoyed the same good luck — better to say its voters have a track record of picking wise leadership. But Bill Collins is an apex. We need more his kind in local and state office and, as well, we need more of his kind in our personal friendships.

I now live in Bridgeport, but my work often takes me to Norwalk. Bill Collins’ signature permeates the city.

Cheryl (Bill's Barber & best friend) Sciarretta July 24, 2022 at 10:26 pm

I was blessed to be with Bill the day he left for his road trip. As monthly usuall , his personal at home barber among many years at my Barbershop Cheryl’s Barber Chair. Tish and Bill were family to me and my 3 Sons over 15 years . Dedicated , loving caring and so funny . We had many long conversations and I will miss Bill very much . God Bless you and Thank you Bill for being in our lives R.I.P. my friend

Margaret K Suib, Fair Housing Officer July 25, 2022 at 11:24 am

Bill Collins was truly a public servant and a terrifically kind man. He and I shared a passion for our alma mater, Lehigh University, for travel and other cultures, and more locally, for truly affordable housing. We spoke often and he never gave up or quit working towards a better, more equitable society. There are so few people like Bill Collins, someone we would do well to emulate. His support for Fair Housing, and affordable housing, buoyed me in times of strong headwinds. Norwalk was so fortunate to have such a devoted son. He will be missed.

Sallie Marsico July 25, 2022 at 1:48 pm

I admired everything Bill Collins stood for both locally and internationally. He wasn’t a talker; he was a “do-er” – an activist
in the most responsible sense of the word. Bill, Tish and I – and a very talented, young Norwalk high-schooler drove to Washington D.C.
together to protest counterproductive U.S. activities in El Salvador
in the 1980’s. It was my first introduction to Bill and my first “march” in D.C. I hold both Bill and Tish in exceedingly high regard. Their value to our town and our country is immeasurable. God Bless them, both.
In God’s love,
Sallie Marsico

Marc Alan July 25, 2022 at 3:05 pm

Im deeply saddened by this loss of a fine gentleman who I’ve always considered a mentor and a role model. He was always so passionate about supporting the arts, and local business, especially so throughout our Wall Street community that he loved. Bill always showed up, was willing to get involved, and always help push things forward with a true spirit of community. I will miss him greatly.

Kathryn Hebert July 27, 2022 at 1:44 pm

I met Bill when I first started working for the City of Norwalk many, many year ago. He was a bigger than life visionary who never stopped giving back in so many positive ways. Norwalk is what it is today largely because of his leadership, initiatives and drive to engage everyone, everywhere. His legacy will continue throughout the generations. I am so honored to have worked with Bill and spend time listening to his words of wisdom.

Paul S. Nakian July 27, 2022 at 11:10 pm

Norwalk, Connecticut–Sister City Nagarote Nicaragua has lost a great friend and public servant. Bill was a selfless liberal, always a gentleman, always caring an acting on behalf of all people, especially those of lesser means. May his memory be an inspiration to all he touched. RIP Bill–Maria and I will miss you. Paul Nakian

Johnny cardamone July 28, 2022 at 6:44 pm

RIP😩 I saw him two months ago when I was driving through South Norwalk he was walking the streets and I just finished saying to my friend Bill Collins saved South Norwalk from the wrecking ball and there he he was!😅👍🏼 and I stopped the car and thanked him!🥲 🇺🇸May God bless his memory🙏🏼🔯✝️

Ato August 1, 2022 at 11:12 pm

Bill was truly an awesome guy. Stopped by his place a few weeks ago and promised would be back to drop off some hot ethnic food. So sad I wasn’t able to do so before his passing. Rest Well my friend.

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