Lylton Andrew Collins, 1945-2005
"It was 'lead, follow or get out of the way' with my dad," said Darius Collins Sr. of his father, Lylton Andrew Collins, a New Orleans native who raised his two sons, Darius and Lylton Collins Jr., in eastern New Orleans. "A true trailblazer, that's who my father was to us."
Lylton was born in 1945 at Charity Hospital, and became the first in his family to attend and graduate from college. He studied accounting at Grambling State University, where he met his future wife, Vina. The pair kept in touch while Lylton served in Vietnam, and when he returned to the States after three years in the Army, he took a job in the university's accounting department to be close to her.
Shortly after she finished school, the couple married and moved to Texas, then Alabama and New York City, where Lylton did financial work for the Veterans Administration. After more than a decade in New York, Collins began longing for home and in 1980 moved his family back to New Orleans, where he was named the assistant chief of the New Orleans VA fiscal department.
Vina said her husband never stopped missing the city and wanted to share his love for Mardi Gras, gumbo and good music with his children.
"I'll never forget him teaching us how to make gumbo," Lylton Collins Jr. said. "We'd make the rounds to the Circle Food Store and buy all the meat. Then I'd cut up the sausage and my brother peeled the shrimp."
When father and sons weren't cooking, they enjoyed watching Saints games together. Though they took occasional fishing trips, Lylton wasn't a big outdoorsman; he often sat on the boat and watched TV while the others were wetting a line.
A jazz music aficionado, Lylton often would encourage his son Darius to sing for him. The Sunday night before Katrina hit, as he waited out the storm, Lylton asked Darius, who was in Las Vegas, to sing "I'll Fly Away" over the phone.
His son obliged and gave up trying to convince his father to evacuate. Vina had made her way to Shreveport on Saturday, but Lylton was determined to stay in his home.
The family last spoke to Lylton around 5 p.m. Aug. 29. There was water in their neighborhood, but no more than they had experienced in previous floods; Lylton did not sound worried, they said. Vina speculates that once the phone lines died, her husband went to sleep, just as he had done in previous storms, and continued sleeping as the water rose and eventually engulfed him.
"I know how hard my husband could sleep," Vina said. "When that water rose, he was sleeping and just didn't know what hit him.
"It never dawned on him that he wouldn't be safe in our house. Never."
His body was recovered in his home and only recently released from St. Gabriel's morgue.
"He felt if it was his time to go he wouldn't want to be anywhere more than New Orleans," Darius said. "He would say to us, 'Stand for something or fall for anything,' and that's how he felt about New Orleans. He stood firm in his love for his home -- this city."
Published in The Times-Picayune.