Tribute to 'Doc'

Sherwood Collins set the stage for drama at Tufts

For more than 30 years, Sherwood C. Collins, known to his students as "Doc" and to his friends as Jerry, shaped the Department of Drama and Dance and nurtured generations of aspiring performers at Tufts. The decorated war veteran, who devoted his life to the theater, died July 15 at Tufts-New England Medical Center. He was 79.

Born in Dwight, Kan., Collins interrupted his undergraduate studies at Kansas State University to enlist in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He flew 26 missions over Germany, 11 as lead bombardier, which earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Sherwood "Doc" Collins © Mark Morelli, 1994

After the war, he returned to Kansas State and earned his B.S. degree in radio and journalism. He went on to the State University of Iowa, earning an MFA and Ph.D. in drama. He taught at the University of Wisconsin before arriving at Tufts in 1961 as an assistant professor of drama. He was promoted to full professor in 1974 and served as chairman of the department from 1981 to 1983. He retired from teaching in 1994, when he received the Seymour O. Simches Award for outstanding teaching and advising.

An American classic
Collins' scholarship was in American theater history, and as a director, his penchant was American realism. During his 33-year tenure at Tufts, he directed 35 plays, most of them American classics, including "Long Day's Journey into Night" and "Our Town." Among the students who studied under Collins were Oscar-winning actor William Hurt, Emmy-winning actor Hank Azaria and Emmy-nominated actor Oliver Platt.

A member of the New England Theater Conference (NETC) since 1961, Collins, in 1973, became the youngest person ever appointed president of NETC. He was also an honorary life member of the Massachusetts High School Drama Guild, which sponsors an annual high school playwriting competition created by Collins and named in his honor.

Collins' vision and devotion to drama at Tufts have had a lasting impact. He was a leading force behind the construction of the Marston Balch Arena Theater on the Medford/Somerville campus, and he helped develop a creative arts program for children ages 7 to 12 and a playwriting workshop for adults.

He also oversaw the Tufts Summer Theater for more than 20 years. "The years have been filled with fulfillment and frustration, insight and oversight," he once told the Boston Globe about the program. He also helped the Magic Circle Children's Theater when it expanded during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The love of students
When he retired in 1994, Collins had this to say about his time at Tufts: "I've always been very interested in what the students are doing and what they do after they leave here. It's just the whole process of watching young minds mature. And, just recently, it occurred to me that I'm not going to be doing this anymore."

When asked then how he wanted to be remembered, Collins recalled the words of Mike Wilson, a Tufts drama graduate who went on to report for The Miami Herald: "When Sherwood Collins leaves, Tufts will lose one of its greatest shepherds—and one of its great cranky bastards."

On the occasion of his retirement, the Sherwood Collins Graduate Endowment Fund was established to support graduate students in drama at Tufts.

Collins is survived by his wife, Julie, a son, a daughter a sister, a brother and two grandchildren. Contributions in his memory may be made to the Sherwood Collins Graduate Endowment Fund, c/o Eric Johnson, Tufts University, Packard Hall, Medford, MA 02155.