William David Collins, Jr., born April 6, 1927 in Amarillo Texas, the eldest of seven children of William D. Collins and Florence Kelly Collins, passed away on February 1, 2017 at home in St. Helena, CA. He is survived by his wife Kathy, children Dave (Chris), Kitty, Hank (Nicky), Kelly, Peter (Sue), Mike (Karen), Kathleen (Leo) and grandchildren Davy, Katie (Tom), DeeDee, Erica, Sofia, Ryan, Christopher, Oran, Maja, Gabriel (Kyrie), Dominic, Mariah, Teresa, Isaac, Peter and great-grandchildren Connor, Clara, Rebecca.
Raised in Denver, Colorado, he graduated from Regis Jesuit High School in 1944 and then attended the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, graduating in 1949 with a degree in electrical engineering. He married Helene Hoeffer in 1949 and served on the USS Buck (Asst. Gunnery Officer), USS Mt. McKinley (Group Electronics Officer) and the LST 819 (Executive Officer). He attended Submarine School and served as a Lieutenant on USS Menhaden, USS Mingo and USS Besugo. He served as Staff Engineer and Superintendent, Submarine Overhaul at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard and managed control system development for the Regulus, the first US submarine launched missile.
Bill resigned from the Navy in 1957 as his wife was gravely ill. They settled with their five children in Los Altos Hills. He founded an engineering firm, Collins & Hyde in Santa Clara, which was later called Collins Electronics. He represented some of Silicon Valley’s early computer pioneers. Following Helene’s death in 1959, he married Kathleen Kelly, with whom he had two children (Mike and Kathleen). Bill and Kathy raised their seven children on Byrd Lane in Los Altos Hills.
In 1967 they purchased a vineyard in St. Helena and he learned all he could about grape-growing from local growers and UC Davis. He named the rock-strewn ranch, “Collins Holystone Vineyard,” a nod to “Holystone,” a sandstone block used to scrub the teak decks of ships. Bill became an expert in ‘holystoning’ during his plebe summer at Annapolis, working on the decks of the Battleship USS Washington.
After founding Conn Creek Winery in 1973 and developing a successful brand, they sold it in 1986, retaining the Collins Holystone Vineyards.
Bill’s passion, after his family and faith, were his vineyards and a love of history. He sponsored the Collins Chair in the Naval Academy’s History Honors Program; he enjoyed reviewing submissions and meeting the prize finalists.
Bill was a modest man of vision with a large presence, who cared deeply about his community and the welfare of vineyard workers. A founder of Napa Valley Family Homes, he served on the Board of Directors from 1990 until 1996, raising seed money among Napa Valley’s vintners and growers for low income housing projects. A member of the Napa Valley Grape Growers, he was one of the early proponents of the Grape Crush Report. As Secretary-Treasurer of the Napa Valley Vintners and one of the founders of the Napa Valley Wine Auction, he was instrumental in expanding their support to include Ole Health. A wine journalist once described Collins as an ‘endearing curmudgeon,’ and he enjoyed that title.