Caroline Collins – in memory

From the Boston Globe — 11/16/2006

Caroline Collins, Creative Force at WGBH During ’80s, Passes on at 70

Some colleagues likened Caroline Collins’s energy to bubbling champagne, others to a lightbulb always on. Whatever the metaphor, in her role as director of creative services at WGBH-TV, Ms. Collins brought to the station a vigor and style that helped define its image during the 1980s.

She was “one of those wonderful colleagues full of enthusiasm and energy, who laughed at all your jokes, who encouraged you to be smart and crazy at the same time,” said Chris Pullman, vice president for branding and visual information.

Ms. Collins, a Matunuck, R.I., resident, died of obstructive pulmonary disease Nov. 1 at Rhode Island Hospital. She was 70.

Born and raised in Providence, Ms. Collins attended Wheeler School in Providence. She wanted to go away to college after graduating — either Bennington in Vermont or Barnard in New York City — but her parents preferred she stay close. She left anyway and enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City in 1954. She studied acting and lived in the Rehearsal Club, a hotel occupied by many of the academy’s aspiring actresses, said her husband, Mark Halliday of Matunuck.

After completing a two-year program, Ms. Collins bounced between off-Broadway and traveling acting troupes, performing in modern classics by Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, Halliday said. While on the road she met a jazz musician from Kansas and gave up acting to marry. They moved to Kansas and she gave birth to a daughter, Jessamyn, but she soon realized that Kansas was too far from the coast for her liking, Halliday said. She and the musician divorced and Ms. Collins and her daughter resettled in Cambridge.

She worked as a buyer for Design Research in Cambridge before joining WGBH in 1970 as a secretary. Over the next decade she rose through the station’s ranks and in 1982 was named director of creative services in the promotions department. In this marketing and design capacity Ms. Collins was able to apply her acting background, her husband said.

“It informed a lot of what she did … she just had an eye for it,” he said. “She was a natural-born storyteller. When she and video and the moving image came together it was a wonderful moment because she could see what she could bring to that technology.”

Early in her career Ms. Collins hired Halliday, then a young designer at a small ad agency in Cambridge. When he left her department a few years later, the pair became fast friends, part of a close group of WGBH employees who would gather in her office Friday nights for wine, cheese, and conversation that lasted until the early hours of the morning, her husband said.

The couple began dating and moved in together during the 1980s, he said.

At the station, she worked closely with the design department to help create ads “that would define WGBH’s local character,” Pullman said.

Ms. Collins was involved in developing two award-winning fund-raising ads that became PBS staples, “Think Again” and “Pledge Free.”

The “Think Again” campaign was interviews with prominent Boston residents and personalities who spoke about their love for public broadcasting, Halliday said, only to be caught off guard with the last question — “when was the last time you donated?” Some were embarrassed to admit they never had. The catch line of the campaign was: “If you think someone else is going to donate for you, think again,” Halliday said.

“Pledge Free” took a brasher approach, bluntly telling listeners that if they donated, the station wouldn’t run its annual August pledge drive. The spots for those ads featured station employees sitting in empty rooms before silent phones and were among the comic successes in the station’s history, Pullman said.

The “Pledge Free” campaign “was just a really nice thing and spoke to one of the most widely derided aspects of public television,” he said.

Ms. Collins and Halliday left WGBH in 1991 to launch Collins/Halliday, a film and video production company based in her Cambridge apartment. Ms. Collins continued to produce freelance documentaries for WGBH, her husband said.

Her work earned her many regional and national awards, Halliday said.

In addition to her husband and daughter, Jessamyn LeClair of Wakefield, R.I., Ms. Collins leaves a granddaughter; a grandson; and two sisters, Eliza of Providence and Georgianna of Cambridge.

A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Church of the Ascension in Wakefield, R.I.

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