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Mourners turn out to honor LeRoy Collins Jr.

The casket of LeRoy Collins Jr. is carried from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Tampa on Monday. The son of former Gov. LeRoy Collins died Thursday after being struck while riding his bicycle.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

The casket of LeRoy Collins Jr. is carried from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Tampa on Monday. The son of former Gov. LeRoy Collins died Thursday after being struck while riding his bicycle.

TAMPA — About 700 mourners, many of them members of Florida's political elite, gathered at a downtown Tampa church Monday to honor the late LeRoy Collins Jr.

Collins, 75, died Thursday after being struck by a sport utility vehicle as he pedaled across a South Tampa intersection during an early-morning bike ride.

The son of former Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins, he was a retired two-star rear admiral and executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

Dignitaries at Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church included Sen. Bill Nelson, Gov. Charlie Crist, state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, former Gov. Bob Martinez, former Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis and his father, former U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis.

The overflow crowd also included current and former state legislators, county commissioners, city officials and leaders from business, the law and the military.

Although born into privilege, Collins — known as Roy — was remembered for a life of achievement, his sense of duty and his compassion for others.

"Roy never rested on his family name," the Rev. John Reese said.

Collins was an Eagle Scout. He graduated from the Naval Academy and had a career aboard submarines in the Navy and Navy Reserve, from which he retired as a two-star rear admiral, before leading the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

As a businessman, Collins brought electronic banking and access to automated teller machines to U.S. military installations worldwide, including ships at sea.

In his last job, as head of the state agency for veterans, Collins helped establish the Florida Veterans Foundation to help honor and care for veterans. On holiday weekends, Collins and his wife, Jane, would drive to veterans' nursing homes and military cemeteries.

Collins was a man of "rock-solid" integrity, honesty and good humor, said a longtime friend, Army Brig. Gen. Forrest "Ted" Gay. "His conscience and his convictions led him on a straight and narrow path," Gay said.

After stunning his famous father by registering as a Republican in the 1980s, Collins challenged former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2006. He lost, but Gay said his enthusiasm for serving his state and his country made an impression.

In his homily, Reese said there's no doubt that Collins was enjoying a reunion with both of his parents. "In fact, Roy and his father are doing just fine right now, having discovered that God takes in both Democrats and Republicans," he said.

Collins is scheduled to be buried Wednesday morning in Tallahassee at the family's historic estate, the Grove.

Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Mourners turn out to honor LeRoy Collins Jr. 08/02/10 [Last modified: Monday, August 2, 2010 9:55pm]
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