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Longtime Hilltop activist dies

Post by Stacey Mulick / The News Tribune on Jan. 13, 2010 at 8:17 am |
January 13, 2010 8:26 am
James Collins/photo provided by the Hilltop Action Coalition
James Collins/photo provided by the Hilltop Action Coalition

A longtime, passionate Hilltop activist has died.

James Collins, 61, died Monday while on an errand with his wife, the Hilltop Action Coalition reported Tuesday night.

Collins was the president of the Hilltop Action Coalition and a longtime block leader for his Hilltop neighborhood. He was also involved in other committees and the St. Joe’s Neighbors group.

He was a member of the city’s blue ribbon panel that studied housing for high-risk and high-needs individuals.

“James has been a leader on the Hilltop for a long time, often reluctantly,” HAC wrote in an announcement. “He didn’t like the limelight but he cared deeply for the Hilltop and HAC so he often stepped up and did things that weren’t in his nature. ”

Collins didn’t like to testify at City Council meetings but “when he got behind the podium, he spoke his heart and few spoke better,” the organization wrote.

Collins once marched into the police chief’s office, demanding to be heard about proposed changes on the Hilltop. He spoke out against drug dealers.

“Criminals are criminals he once said,” HAC reported. “And if I find them near my house, I just go out and tell them to get the hell off my block.”

Collins was the backbone of the Hilltop Action Coalition. He helped established the annual charity basketball game between Tacoma police and firefighters that raised money for the crime-fighting organization.

He worked with Pam Brewer, the volunteer coordinator for St. Joseph Medical Center, to set up annual clean ups sponsored by the hospital and its neighbors.

“Those cleanups, with half the attendees from the Hilltop and the other half from St Joe’s own staff were always record breakers,” HAC reported. ” In the 90’s it was easy to find dumpster-loads.  In early 1998 they gathered 3.4 tons of debris.  James had made the comment that the Hilltop was getting so clean that they were finding it harder and harder to find enough to pick up.”

The HAC board was meeting Monday night when Collins’ wife arrived to deliver the news of his death.

“He was a leader in the toughest of times,” said Tacoma police officer Greg Hopkins, who was the longtime community liaison officer for the Hilltop. ” He lived life.  One of his passions was the Hilltop.”

HAC will honor Collins at their next block leader meeting Jan. 25. The meeting will be dedicated to him and “to the early block leaders who really put their lives on the line to fight for their homes.”

“He was larger than life and the recent history of the Hilltop will be part of James’ legacy,” HAC reported. “We owe a part of our safety now to him.”

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