Dwight M. Collins died peacefully at home, with the help of hospice, on June 29 at age 88.
He grew up in the Washington, DC, suburbs, graduated from Sidwell Friends High School in 1952, and went on to Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. Before his senior year, he dropped out, due to a bout of depression — he had suffered from this illness since childhood. After a stint of work in DC, he returned to Hobart in 1959, where he met his future wife, Zipporah Weiss (Zippie). They married in 1961 and moved to San Francisco, settling in Berkeley in 1962.
He worked as a letter carrier and then enrolled in SF State to try to complete his bachelor’s degree but again dropped out because of depression (later he got effective treatment with various medications and electroconvulsive therapy). He freelanced doing patent drafting and layout of periodical publications; rewired, replumbed, and insulated his home; and was hired as a lab technician to test automotive lights at UC’s Richmond Field Station. He and Zippie became active in the newly formed UC Clerical, Technical, and Professional Workers’ Union, where he served as Treasurer.
In 1969, the lighting lab shut down because the federal government preempted testing. Dwight’s boss offered to give him a new job, but the Collinses decided instead to switch roles (an idea they had long considered, since Zippie was committed to her career as an editor and was struggling to manage work, union activities and care for their sons, Noah, age 3, and Josh, 1).
Dwight became the participating parent in the six-family playgroup on their block and then in his sons’ preschools. Househusbands were so rare in those days that he was written up in the SF Chronicle and Newsweek. He changed a sign at the Children’s Community Center preschool from “Mothers’ Room” to “Parents’ Room” and became the go-to parent for fixing the kids’ toilet, where little juice cans constantly got lodged in the U-shaped trap.
When Noah and Josh were in Thousand Oaks Elementary School, Dwight volunteered in their classrooms. He also became their team coach in the Berkeley-Albany Soccer Club; he had played soccer since high school, and he enjoyed coaching in this league, which fostered a positive, noncritical, “everyone gets to play” attitude.
With reliable chunks of time during school days, he started to build a second story on the family’s two-bedroom home. He collected used windows, doors, and other parts wherever he could find them. His friend Harry Towne, an architect, helped him develop the plans, and other friends pitched in (for pay or some as volunteers) on tasks of this complex process. It was a years-long, hard job, with periods of discouragement and a near-divorce, but when it was done, each of the boys had his own room, Dwight and Zippie had a beautiful master bedroom, and there was a second bathroom.
Meanwhile, Dwight had agreed to work a few days a week for his friend Harry, who had a 1,000-plus Chronicle delivery route. Dwight awoke at 1 a.m., picked up the papers, and drove around northeast Berkeley in a VW Thing (like a jeep), throwing papers right and left to subscribers’ front doors, rain or shine. He got home around 6 a.m., and slept for a few hours more. Several years later, Harry moved to Washington state and sold the route to Dwight, who continued throwing the papers until he was 67 and ready to retire.
In retirement, he turned one room at home into a darkroom, rekindled a longtime interest in black-and-white (analog) photography, became active in the Berkeley Camera Club, volunteered once a week running the photography studio of Studio One Art Center in Oakland, and won prizes and acclaim for many of his photos, which ranged from abstract compositions to landscapes to portraits. A favorite subject was the sculptures of found objects that dotted the landscape of the Albany Bulb.
He is survived by his wife of almost 61 years, Zipporah; sons, Noah and Josh, Josh’s wife, Kendra, and their children, Camille and Hunter; the last of his four siblings, Sue Collins; and several nieces and nephews and their children.