B. J. Collins 1958 -2002  

For the Collins Family Circle.

Stephen Smyth             8th January 2003.

“Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end,
We’d sing and dance forever and a day,
We’d live the life we’d chose
We’d fight and never lose
Those were the days, oh yes, those were the Days.”

Well, Brian, my best friend for thirty years, is gone. Brian was special, a special friend, a special son, a special brother, husband, daddy and uncle. Throughout those thirty years as we changed from boys into young men and from being sons into being fathers our outlook on life has remained virtually unchanged. We were the same age, we’d been to the same school, we were both the eldest in our family, both of us have a younger brother and two younger sisters. Both of us had degrees, we had somehow managed to get beautiful wives and we both have two beautiful children.

 I want to go back those thirty years to1973 and the Coleraine school era when we were just fifteen. We lived then in the “wonder years.”  Brian was a boarder at Coleraine Inst.  The Lisburn contingent was well represented in Darryl his younger brother and Simon, their cousin. We didn’t like the lessons much, or the teachers, but by panic studying the last few days before exams we somehow kept scraping by. Some of our heroes were Muhammad Ali, Georgie Best and Alex ”Hurricane” Higgins. Elvis Presley was still the king and we loved heavy, loud, rock music by Led Zepplin. But to both of us, our greatest heroes, and our only sources of income, were our fathers. Brian’s nick- name was Squid, but as he grew bigger and tougher fewer boys risked calling him this so he evolved into Big Bruno, and eventually into his initials, BJ.

In those days I had access to my mother’s car at the weekends. Brian had nicknamed this car "the Rocket" because it was so slow, but it enabled us to lead many clandestine breakouts from boarding school on Saturday nights, down to Kelly’s in Portrush. We also often skipped lunch breaks and, indeed, classes to race down to the Council putting green, at Anderson Park, and play putting tournaments against other lads for, serious enough money like, 10 pence a hole. Brian and I were both suckers for double or quits but we sort of never paid each other off, and only took the money from those other lads. We eventually progressed into having small MGB sports cars, which looked great, went really fast but were too dear for schoolboys to run and for their dad’s to insure. Brian’s driving has never changed or improved. One of the reasons I am prematurely bald at 45 years old was Brian’s Italian- Rally driver style of driving and anyone who sat in a car with him when he was in a hurry will never forget that experience.

At school we were both in McNeill House which was the worst rugby playing house in history. We won about three games in seven years. However although Brian was a great rower, and won his Honors Blazer from Inst in rowing during his O-Level year, he would play rugby in the house matches for us. Brian was really tough even then and would mix it with anyone. He played really hard but fair, was incredibly brave and gave absolutely 100% in every game, regardless of how far we were behind or how hopeless the rest of his team –mates were.

We never, ever had an idea in our heads what we would do, or wanted to do, when we would have to leave school and “grow up”. In fact this “career path blindness” has never changed. We both just were happy surviving at school, doing the minimum work and not being thrown out, or totally disgraced, when the school reports arrived at home. Maybe, in five years time, which to us seemed an absolute eternity, we’d be at university and somehow we’d have matured and would know all about a career, but until then we’d just live life to the full and we just loved those happy, golden, stress-free days. Being street wise back then was trying to grow your hair as long as possible without the teachers putting you on report because it was all short-back –and-sides stuff. We would wear weird variations of the grey official school uniform. Being ultra trendy Brian and I sported maroon waistcoats, and bright fluorescent yellow socks. Everyone wore huge black, platform shoes like Gary Glitter.  We were just the two coolest dudes at the school.

And so to the summer holidays in Majorca. For three years, during our school summer holidays about a dozen of us took a fortnight in cheap apartments and had the time of our lives. We were like the Rolling Stones on tour. It’s hard to believe that the participants went on do well and became, bankers, Stuart McDowell, Doctors, Paul Conn and Rory McCartney, business executives like Stephen Boyd  and the biggest shock of all is Simon, who could eat absolutely anything, peppers, raw onions, absolutely anything, can now build, construct and sell real houses. Darryl, Simon and Brian must have learnt an awful lot after they left Inst and went to either Friends or Wallace because we certainly learnt nothing like this in Coleraine. There always were challenges always someone in our group would be good for that task. One of us would be a good swimmer, or a good rugby player, or footballer, or photographer, or good at cars, or talking to girls, or arm wrestling, making huge splashes and soaking everyone at the pool, or cooking or something. Our holiday group never had a single argument or a punch up. Quite often at the same beach club we would see the sunset out over the calm Mediterranean sea and then six hours later watch it rise again as we made our way back to the apartments. As Brian and I were amongst the wildest of the gang we always roomed together, and both of us would come home each year, completely broke and without any suntan. We were all equal and equally innocent and with the beach life, the pool life and the night life, those holidays remain some of the happiest memories for us all.

And Brian’s life was happy and filled with joy. A few years ago the two of us went to Lansdowne Road, Dublin for an Irish rugby match. Needless to say I insisted on driving. As usual we talked freely and philosophized to each other where each of us were at that point in our lives and what work and life were really all about. We both loved our parents and our families were the greatest joy in our lives. Being a daddy was just brilliant, and we wanted our children to be happy in life above everything else  regardless if they were rich or poor or clever or not. Being happy was what it all was about.  This was really what, Brian my best friend, was all about.  We all know your wealth is not the money that you have. Money alone can’t buy happiness. Some people say your health is your wealth, but the good health of others, like  your wife, or your child’s more important. Having  good health and enough money  still doesn’t do it, if no-one loves or really cares about you.

Brian believed  that what being a good, decent person was all about, could only be measured by the love you had for, and you received from your family and friends. Using this measure, Brian was truly wealthy with the love from his mum and dad, his brother and both his sisters. And with all his heart Brian truly loved, and was deeply and truly loved in return by his wife Lorna and his two boys. The love we, his friends, have for him only adds to how good and worthwhile his life was. In the year two thousand and two Brian was happier than ever before as a person, a son, a father, a husband, brother and as a true friend. He enriched all our lives and we shall not see his like again.


“Those were the days my friend,
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we’d choose
We’d fight and never lose

Those were the days, oh yes, those were the Days.”