Margaret Collins was a matriarch in the Staunton and Augusta County arts scene, but to those who knew her, she was much more.
Collins, who started The Oak Grove Theater in Verona along with her husband, passed away Wednesday. She was 98.
A playwright, theatrical producer and former Mary Baldwin College English professor, Collins touched the lives of many as a mentor and friend.
MBC theater professor Virginia R. Francisco took classes with Collins' husband, Fletcher, who died over two years ago, also at age 98.
Francisco, who was friends with Margaret for nearly 50 years, worked closely with the two and describes Margaret as a powerful woman and a caring friend. Margaret, she said, was a fine arts administrator before there was a word for it.
"I'm not entirely sure that Margaret is even human," Francisco said. "She's either a goddess among women or a force of nature. Or maybe both."
Between Fletcher and Margaret, "they invented the arts scene in Staunton," Francisco said.
Pat Cabe, who met Margaret in the early 1960s and is still involved in theater, recalls her as a great mentor.
"She was always pushing one out to the edge of the tree branch a little bit to go out and take chances," Cabe said.
Cabe said Margaret had a way of being persuasive, recalling a time when Margaret asked her to perform for six weeks in Charlottesville on a whim. Yet Cabe didn't hesitate in doing it.
"You'd say yes because it was worth it, and it was always fun," Cabe said.
The Collins' moved to Pennyroyal Farm in 1946. They started the outdoor Oak Grove Theater in 1954 as a place for Mary Baldwin students to perform, and soon after, established the Theater Wagon as a way for artists to perform more experimental works.
Staunton City Councilman David Metz describes Margaret and Fletcher as "the backbone" of the city and county arts community.
"Whatever exists today was in great part due to their vision in starting the arts," Metz said.
Thomas Cabe, who, like his wife Pat, has worked in theater and been close with the Collins family, said Margaret was "the spirit behind the art and the renaissance in Staunton now."
"They made a great team," Thomas Cabe said. "But Margaret was more than just a team member. She was an inspiration to many, many people."
Pat Cabe said even in Margaret's later years, when no one would have faulted her for quitting, "she was still vital and very interested in other people's concerns," keeping up with the theater groups and what they were doing.
"It's the end of an era for us," she said.
Margaret Collins is survived by four sons, Christopher "Kit," Brandon, Fletcher III, and Francis, and their families.
Hamrick Funeral Home is handling the arrangements. The funeral will be Saturday, Feb. 2., at 2:00 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton.
Anyone wanting to write to the family should do so in care of Brandon Collins, 437 East Beverley Street, Staunton, Va. 24401.
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