Dr. A. Byron Collins, who died June 7, remembered for dedication to patients, community healthcare

HORNELL — Physician Albert Byron Collins, on his UR Medicine profile page, summed up his philosophy of medical care this way: “Treat every patient as you would like to be treated yourself.”

Collins, a general surgery specialist whose name has been nearly synonymous with local healthcare due to his more than 50 years of practicing medicine in the Hornell area and caring for generations of Canisteo Valley families, died last Friday evening in his Cunningham Creek Road home in Canisteo at age 85, after a brief illness.

“We are deeply saddened at the passing of Dr. Collins,” said Bryan O’Donovan, president and CEO of St. James Hospital. “He served as a surgeon at St. James for approximately 55 years, and was known for his diverse surgical talents and compassionate care.

“Dr. Collins was a mentor to many St. James employees and physicians for his unwavering commitment to patients both at St. James and in his private practice. He will be dearly missed by his St. James family.”

Collins was a former chief of surgery at both Bethesda and St. James hospitals in Hornell and a former Steuben County coroner. In addition to special interests in women's health, trauma and fractures, he practiced general chest surgery and tonsil/adenoid surgery.

Hornell Mayor John Buckley ordered city flags to be lowered in honor of Collins. The city posted the order on its Facebook page, and more than 275 people reacted to the news and posted condolences.

In a statement, Buckley noted Collins’ commitment to local healthcare, both during his years as a physician/general surgeon and as an advocate for St. James, especially earlier this decade when the hospital’s viability was in peril.

“Our community suffered a tremendous loss over the weekend with the passing of Dr. Collins. It is a vast understatement to say he was a pillar of the community,” Buckley said. “Dr. Collins led a life of service. His caring, compassion and devotion to area residents made a profound impact on countless lives. Throughout his life, Dr. Collins delivered a high level of healthcare to the Hornell area. In more recent years when the future of St. James was in doubt, he worked tirelessly to ensure that Hornell would continue to provide the quality services our community has always enjoyed.

“Doc Collins was one of a kind. There is no replacing him. He wasn't only my physician for most of my life, he was a friend and confidant who I will sorely miss.

“My deepest condolences go out to his family at this time.”

Collins, born in Olean on Sept. 10, 1933, came to Canisteo after a surgical residency at Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo. Initially planning to stay one year as a temporary fill-in for Dr. Leon Roe, Collins never left the region.

According to Collins’ obituary, “He fell in love with the people and the area. He bought Dr. Roe's country home and farm and started ABC Ranch where he raised prized Herefords. It wasn't an unusual sight to see him come into the emergency room with his cowboy hat and boots on. He dedicated his life to Bethesda and St James Hospital and worked tirelessly for their survival.”

Former mayor of Hornell Shawn Hogan called Collins “a friend and mentor” who he was proud to work with during the community’s efforts to save St. James Hospital.

“Dr. Byron Collins devoted his entire career to Hornell and the Canisteo Valley,” Hogan said in a statement. “’Doc’ as so many called him and so many respected and loved him will be terribly missed but always remembered as a person with compassion and empathy for all. Doc’s desire to heal people and return them to health was his life's ambition and his life's devotion. May he get the rest and peace he so truly deserved.”

Collins continued to practice medicine and run his farm up until his recent illness.

Collins is survived by his wife, Rae Collins; eight children; 20 grandchildren; a brother and a sister; and nieces and nephews. The complete list of survivors is published today in his obituary. He was predeceased by a son, Chip Collins, in 2016.

The family will receive friends from 5-8 p.m., Thursday and from noon to 2 and 5-8 p.m., Friday at the H.P. Smith & Son, Inc. Funeral Home, 29 East Main St., Canisteo. A Mass of Christian Burial for Dr. Collins will be celebrated Saturday (June 15, 2019) at 10 a.m. at St. Ann's Catholic Church, Erie Avenue, Hornell.