Johnie Lowain Collins, 89, passed peacefully in her sleep on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015 in Imperial Beach. Married to Marion Clair Collins “Rip” a Lt. Commander in the Navy, she sadly lost Rip, then 37, to cancer.
Born in Defeated Creek, Tn, to John Duval and Callie Ray, along with nine other siblings, there are many special anecdotes about Johnie, who had both the physique and upbringing of a Dolly Parton, but unfortunately terribly tone-deaf. Johnie escaped Defeated Creek to Saints Mary and Elizabeth Hospital, in Louisville, Ky where she earned her RN. It was in Louisville that she and Rip, then a young merchant marine, met on a blind date. Johnie and Rip married and moved to Portsmouth, Va where Rip was stationed. This was one of the best chapters - Johnie and Rip living beachside, enjoying crabbing and clambakes on the beach. Johnie and Rip learned of his cancer diagnosis while he was serving as the commandant at the Three-Rivers Naval Station in Pittsburgh. Rip retired and together they moved the family into a little pink house in the outskirts of Louisville, Ky, where she nursed Rip until his death in 1961.
They had dreamt that someday Rip would be stationed in California. So from the little pink house Johnie escaped again, piling her five children into a Pontiac Bonneville, driving across country to a small rental house that bordered a roaring Los Angeles freeway, arriving on the very same summer days of the Watts riots in 1965.
Johnie was a 10 handicap golfer, with a hole-in-one, avid tennis player and killer ping pong player. She was fearless. When the “all-male” Woodland Hills Country Club stupidly denied her membership based on gender she went to the LA Times to protest the discrimination. Working two jobs and raising a family of five on her own, she earned her B.S. in nursing and then her M.A. in public health, from California State L.A. Johnie rose through the professional ranks to become Director of Nursing for the Los Angeles Department of Public Health. In that position, she received repeated commendations, particularly for her work in the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Bucking bureaucracy, she instituted evening clinic hours for working families, and was mentor, friend, and confidant of the nurses that worked for her. Deeply spiritual, and relentlessly compassionate to others less fortunate, Johnie was an ardent advocate for social justice, with the Prayer of St. Francis as her touchstone. She wrote elegantly, in poetry and prose, especially about how her experience in the South shaped her thoughts on the injustice inflicted on people of color and on the poor, regardless of color. She loved her country and repeatedly questioned authority, and asked of those who were given much, to give much in return.
In her retirement years, she served as a hospice nurse and as vice-president of IB Beautiful, planting flowering shrubs and trees along the medians of Palm Avenue.
An inspiration to all who knew her, Johnie was driven to make a better life for herself and her five children: Pamela, Mark, Michael, Neal and Amy. She is survived by four children, having lost Pamela at 24, seven grandchildren, one great grandchild, and a host of loving family and friends.