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Thomas Collins, former Newsday columnist, dies at 84

Former Newsday columnist Thomas Collins in 1990.

Former Newsday columnist Thomas Collins in 1990. Credit: Newsday / Daniel Goodrich

Thomas Collins, a former Newsday columnist who pioneered coverage of the news media and its influence on society, died Wednesday at Huntington Hospital of heart failure. He was 84.

Described by family and former colleagues as a tenacious reporter, Collins covered the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, interviewed President Lyndon Johnson and documented Watergate and President Richard Nixon's resignation.

Collins gained notoriety as the first reporter at a major American newspaper to write a column chronicling the media.

Collins' syndicated columns appeared in Newsday, the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Herald from 1970 through his retirement from Newsday in 1990. Many of the nation's largest newspapers now employ at least one full-time media columnist.

"He was covering the influence of the news media in our lives, and that was groundbreaking at the time," said Rita Ciolli, who took over the media beat at Newsday after Collins' retirement and now serves as editor of the newspaper's Editorial/Opinion pages.

The oldest of four brothers, Collins was born in 1929 in St. Albans, Queens, only weeks after the stock market crash. He took writing classes at New York University and Columbia but did not pursue a degree.

Collins served in the Army during the Korean War from 1951 through 1953. After returning home from the war, he worked for two years as a reporter with the now-defunct Babylon Leader, a weekly newspaper.

Collins was hired by Newsday as a general assignment reporter in 1959 and later served as a correspondent in Washington, D.C., and then as the paper's Washington bureau chief.

A voracious reader who was interested in the expanding scope of the media, Collins began his column in 1970. He wrote about government efforts to control the media, censorship and obscenity laws and how the press became "cheerleaders" for war before the U.S. invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

"He was fearless in exposing corruption," said Collins' oldest daughter, Jennifer Leveau, 44. "My father had such high moral standards."

Collins and his wife, Carmen, who works as a greeter at the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport, were married for 49 years. "He was a great companion," she said. "We had so much in common."

The couple lived in Northport for the past four decades. Their daughters, Jennifer and Arda Collins-Beck, 39, both pursued writing. Leveau is writing a murder-mystery novel; Collins-Beck is an award-winning poet.

Besides his wife and daughters, Collins is survived by two grandchildren and two brothers, Everett and Ronald.

A private funeral service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at St. Illuminator's Armenian Apostolic Cathedral in Manhattan.

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