Collins goes to Trenton
the 1960s, you might have been a classmate or teammate. In the 70s,
if you were lucky, you played on one of his legendary basketball
teams. And in the 90s, you could not have learned from a more
qualified professor than he. In fact, for nearly 40 years, if youve
been a part of Rowan University, youve been connected to Jack
Collins 64, 67.
Teacher, coach, lawyer, college administratorJack Collins
is known today throughout New Jersey in a much larger contextas
Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly. For the past 18 years,
Collins, a Salem County Republican, has served as an Assemblyman,
and for 10 years, as Assembly Speaker, one of the most powerful
positions in the state. As presiding officer, Collins oversees the
Assemblys entire operation including setting the schedule
and legislative priorities.
In fact, the legislative agenda is where Collins power and
influence are most significant. Without his approval, his fellow
lawmakers bills cant come up for a vote.
Collins rise to the position was almost meteoric, and he is
now the longest-serving Speaker in the Assemblys history.
There is really only one state office more powerful, and this fall,
Collins is expected to formally announce his intention to add governor
to his list of accomplishments.
During college, the six-foot Collins was known for his prowess on
the basketball court. He scored 1,038 points in his Profs career,
long before the three-point basket came to be. After graduation,
armed with a science education degree and a record that would earn
him a place on the South Jersey Basketball Hall of Fame, he accepted
a position teaching science and coaching basketball at Sterling
The next year, Camden County College invited him to become coach
of their fledgling team, and the following year, his alma mater
extended the same offer, making Collins, at 26, one of the youngest
head basketball coaches in the country.
It was such an honor to return to the college and be among
my own coaches and professors as a colleague, says Collins,
who also served in the Universitys Admissions Office for eight
years. Eventually, he would spend 14 years as executive assistant
working with administrator Lawson Brown and, later, President Herman
After racking up more than 131 victories and three conference titles
in a row, Collins decided hed had enough of basketball. He
says that it was his wife, the former Betsy Leeds 65,
who realized the need to channel her husbands energy in a
new direction. Having already earned a masters degree in student
personnel services in 1967, Collins jumped at his wifes suggestion
that he attend law school, and in 1982, he graduated from Rutgers
University School of Law in Camden.
The father of four, Collins first foray into politics was
a term on his local school board. During one meeting a fellow member
surprised him, telling Collins that hed suggested his name
as a possible Assembly candidate. I remember asking, For
what party? Collins said, laughing. The son of a Gloucester
City welder and life-long Democrat, no one was more surprised than
Collins when the chairman of the Salem County Republican party called,
asking him to run as its candidate. After meeting with the
leadership and discussing it with my family I thought, Why
not? Lets try this, Collins said. He easily won
his first Assembly race in 1985.
Hardly a career politico sheltered in paneled conference rooms and
marble halls, Collins begins each day feeding the animals and doing
other chores on the three-acre Pittsgrove Township farm where hes
lived for 26 years. Inspired by the TV westerns of his youth, the
city-born Collins and his wife bought the property the day they
looked at it.
Throughout the 90s, Collins would return to Rowan after a
long day in Trenton to face an even more formidable group than state
lawmakers: graduate students in educational leadership. He loved
it. Subjects like school law, with locker searches and things
like that, are so intriguing, he said. With graduate
students, it was like throwing raw meat to lions. They came alive,
and we were learning on both sides of the desk.
Collins unabashedly calls his own college experience the best four
years of his life. What I learned as an undergraduate, about
life and about people, has allowed me to enjoy so many of the other
years of my life, he says sincerely. Collins believes that
the forces that shaped his education, especially the closeness and
the interaction between faculty and students, are still the same,
despite the growth of his alma mater.
The place that most influenced him and where he has contributed
so much has honored him twice: in 1993, Collins was the recipient
of the Distinguished Alumnus Award and this May, he was awarded
an honorary doctorate during the Class of 2000 commencement exercises.
Of his political success, Collins says simply, I have a good
rapport with people. As a teacher, I learned to bring out the best
in students, and as a coach, to take the strengths of each person
and blend them so that they work as a team. Politics is no
less challenging. I enjoy government and I enjoy people, but
it can be hard. Always, always, you have to believe in yourself.