Norman Lee Van Collins III (“Bishop”)
February 17, 2011 – May 29, 2011
The morning of Sunday, May 29, 2011 was a beautiful, warm, sunny day in Jackson, Mississippi where I resided. My son Norman II and his family also lived in Jackson but traveled 2 ½ hours north each weekend to Clarksdale where he was a minister of music at a local church. He and his wife were the proud parents of two children, the youngest being my grandson Norman Lee Van Collins III who was 3 months and 12 days of age.
My grandson was a wonderful baby, with beautiful brown eyes, soft curly hair and a precious countenance. He would often smile and coo in such a way that would melt the hearts of anyone who met him.
As a grandfather, I celebrated him every day. Since I was the seventh-born of seven children and the father of seven children, I felt a very special connection to Little Norman because he was also the seventh grandchild born to the Collins clan.
My son later informed me that they would nickname his son “Bishop” to celebrate our ministerial legacy, as had been experienced by me as a pastor and my son as a minister of music.
Like most grandparents, I could hardly go to a store without remembering to buy an outfit, toy or other item to share with my Bishop. I even bought items of clothing for both of us that would identify us as grandfather and grandson — like the perfect suit and tie.
My house became a literal nursery, as I was privileged to babysit him for days while his mother and father were either at work, at church functions, or out of town, or simply because I loved to be with him.
Since it was the day before Memorial Day, I anticipated that my son and his family would return from Clarksdale later that evening, and we would prepare food for the holiday at my home. I and a close friend were headed out of town for a brief visit when I received a phone call from a church friend. He told me that my son, Norman II, needed me to come to Clarksdale, Mississippi, right away. Something had happened to Bishop.
After several more frantic phone calls, I eventually received word that our dear Bishop was dead. Grief-stricken and confused, all I could remember was the pain in my heart not felt since I witnessed the death of my mother 10 years earlier.
The two-and-a-half hour drive to see my grieving family seemed like an eternity. When we finally arrived in Clarksdale, I found them huddled at the local hospital. The pain was compounded by the agony of seeing my son and his wife grieving as they fell into my arms on the hospital porch, surrounded by church members, family, and sympathizers.
After sharing a few moments of uncontrollable emotions, my son and his wife began to share with me the horrid details of what happened that day.
He, his wife, his daughter and Bishop arrived late at church that morning. When they arrived at church, his wife and daughter entered the church while Norman was left to remove Bishop and his musical equipment from the car.
Norman saw one of the church members who had come out to assist him – as was customary on Sunday mornings – and requested that the member remove Bishop from the car and take him to the nursery for him. Being assured that the member heard him, Norman proceeded to go into the church to set up his keyboard and begin worship. But unfortunately the member did not hear Norman. Thus while church services were in progress for the next two and a half hours, Bishop was inadvertently left in the car parked in the church parking lot with the windows up in 93 degree weather, still buckled in his car seat.
When church services were concluded, Norman proceeded to the nursery to get Bishop, but he wasn’t there. Norman, his wife and other members rushed to the car, only to discover Bishop unresponsive, at which point he was rushed to the local hospital and pronounced dead on arrival.
Needless to say, as result of this tragedy our lives have not been the same, as daily our hearts struggle to deal with the loss of our beloved Bishop. However, in an effort to prevent other children and families from enduring such horrifying experience, we have begun an annual campaign called Bishop’s Blessing where we share our story and disseminate materials regarding child hot car tragedies with churches, organizations, and news media to heighten the awareness and hopefully the prevention of child hot car injuries and deaths (https://iamnormancollins.com/bishops-blessings/).
Bishop’s death was tragic and unintentional. It was the result of confusion and misunderstanding between two people. But above all it was preventable. Those who have not experienced such a tragedy are not expected to understand how something so unthinkable could happen. This is why it is so important to educate the communities-at-large regarding methods of prevention and the need to take child hot car injuries and deaths seriously. Prior to Bishop’s death, I actually either never heard of such tragedies or had a deaf ear to it. However, when it hits home, you begin to understand that this could happen to anyone regardless of race, social status, or gender.
Of equal importance is the sharing of our experience with other families who have already lost loved ones due to hot car deaths as a means of support and strength. As I and my son’s family personally have experienced, it is difficult to bear such burden without others who can empathize and sympathize with our loss and the ongoing grief. For that reason, I pledge my support to those families with the hopes that we can turn our pain into power.
I have thought so many times how effective and valuable frequent prevention messages and methods would have been toward saving Bishop. Yet, I realize that in spite of the hurt and the pain, we all have a God-given right, responsibility, and reason to protect our children as well as each other in anyway possible. While we cannot change what happened to our precious boy Bishop, as advocates, parents, teachers, rescuers and media, we CAN and MUST do something to help. We can do it and we will!
Norman L. V. Collins, Sr, PhD