Rosemary Caldwell Collins, a 51-year-old music teacher at Clearwater High School, is being remembered for her vocal talents and leadership skills as colleagues react to her death after what was described in social media posts as a sudden bout with COVID-19.
Many are expressing shock that the active and seemingly healthy educator entered a hospital this week and was gone so quickly.
“I spoke to her on Friday. I’m still so stunned and in disbelief,” Daniel Wood, a music teacher at Steinbrenner High School in Hillsborough, posted to Facebook.
Joseph Grady, an instrumental teacher at Hillsborough’s Smith Middle School who has known the family more than 20 years, said he spoke to Ms. Collins’s husband on Monday afternoon.
“I asked him, ‘Is everything all right in your family?’ and he said, ‘Everyone’s fine,’” Grady said.
“It’s horrifying,” said Nancy Velardi, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. “It’s what we’ve worried about all year.” Velardi said Ms. Collins might be the first Pinellas educator to have died of coronavirus, although other such losses have been rumored.
Colleagues said Ms. Collins, a graduate of Countryside High who was hired into the Pinellas school district in 1995, was revered for talents that included an operatic singing voice.
“Rosemary could sing anything,” said Jeanne Reynolds, who retired last week as the district’s performing arts supervisor.
But she was just as widely admired for an unassuming nature that allowed her to interact with students of all ages and adults at all stages of their careers. Ms. Collins joked that she “got” middle schoolers’ sense of humor, Reynolds said.
”She was fun-loving and approachable and would help anyone,” she said. “And so she was a wonderful mentor teacher. Student interns or new teachers would all call on Rosemary because she was so approachable. That’s not always the case with accomplished musicians. Rosemary was there for everyone.”
Ms. Collins made her home in Palm Harbor, where she was married to pianist Stan Collins and had two children: son, Griffin, and daughter, Lindsey, both musicians. She was director of music at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Clearwater. Her husband is director of instrumental music at Calvary Church, also in Clearwater.
Jerry Shaver, who taught theater at Countryside High when Ms. Collins was a student there, remembered directing her in performances of The Night of January 16th, Adrift in New York, West Side Story, The Music Man, Grease, and in her senior year, South Pacific.
“Her performances were always magnificent,” Shaver wrote on Facebook.
Ms. Collins taught for 15 years at Safety Harbor Middle School. In 2009, she was a finalist for Pinellas Teacher of the Year.
“She honestly just set the standard for the state and for the Southeastern part of the nation for what a middle school choir could be,” Reynolds said.
In 2017, Ms. Collins was named choral director at Clearwater High. By that time, she had served as president of the Pinellas County Music Educators Association and had been recognized by the Florida Music Education Association as an emerging leader.
Yet, according to music educator Hernan Pineda, she was apprehensive. “She was nervous going into a high school,” said Pineda, who teaches at Bay Point Elementary. “She was kind of a humble person.”
The two crossed paths numerous times at professional trainings and Pineda was impressed by Ms. Collins’ musicianship as she led student choral ensembles. “The music world has actually lost a star,” he said.
Ms. Collins’ Facebook posts of recent weeks show no hint of any illness.
On Dec. 3, she was heading out to sing in a yearly Christmas performance at the St. Marks Village retirement home.
On Dec. 12, she enjoyed a performance in Tarpon Springs of The Hamilton Project, in which son Griffin played the part of Aaron Burr.
Ms. Collins expressed some of her own measured thoughts on the coronavirus crisis in a Facebook post on July 9.
“I am sad that I won’t be back in my classroom with students without having to worry about contracting a deadly virus — or worse, bringing it home to my family,” she wrote.
“I am sad that my two seniors (one HS, one college, both in performing arts) will likely miss out on much of what should be a milestone year full of experiences doing what they love.
“I am sad that while many (about 2/3 of Americans) have been limiting movement in the community, wearing masks, and being cautious for the good of all, some people still display no regard for the recommendations proven to keep us all safer. I am sad about the division in our country — political, racial, economic, and social.
“On the other hand, I do recognize that I have much to be grateful for — a steady income and a comfortable home, my family members and I are healthy, my children have access to education with or without a “brick & mortar” school setting, and that I live in a country where I have freedom to speak, worship, and vote as I choose.”
Five months later, friends and colleagues are reminded of the dangers that COVID-19 poses, even to those who are careful and responsible.
“It’s closer than ever right now,” Pineda said. “It’s a psychological thing. You start feeling like there is normalcy, a false normalcy. You see everybody out on street, everybody in school. Everything is normal, quotation marks around normal. So you think that is something that is happening on TV, in the news.”
Velardi, the teachers union president, said she hopes there will be a redoubling of precautions.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of any educator before their time, and especially one so loved by her students and by her colleagues,” she said. “I just think that we need to protect our kids and our teachers to the greatest extent that we can.”
Mostly, Ms. Collins’ colleagues vowed this week to be supportive of her family as they honor her memory.
“She touched the lives of so many people,” said Grady, of Smith Middle. “She was tireless, wanting to be an educator, and to be a supervisor. She wanted to be a part of everything musical that she could.”