Former U.S. Rep. Collins remembered as a 'diva with a servant's heart'

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — U.S. Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins was remembered Saturday at her funeral service as a politician who got things done, a diva with the heart of a public servant and an Eastside girl who did not back down.

Jaramogi Menelik Kimathi, minister at The Shrine of the Black Madonna, said Collins, a longtime community activist and first black woman from Michigan elected to Congress, was a woman of noble character.

A woman places a rose on the casket of former U.S. Congresswoman Barbara-Rose Collins before the memorial service, Saturday morning, November 13, 2021.

"Barbara-Rose brought good, not harm to her family, good not harm to her people, good not harm to her friends, good not harm to her community, good not harm to the city," Kimathi said as he delivered Collins' eulogy.

"She is a diva with a servant's heart ... and she could wear a hat," Kimathi said.

Collins died after contracting COVID-19, her family confirmed Thursday. She was 82.

Barbara-Rose Collins

About 300 guests attended the service in the rotunda of the Charles H. Wright Museum, including Collins' family, newsman Huel Perkins, former Detroit Mayor and Councilman Ken Cockrel Jr., Coleman Young II and Detroit ombudsman Bruce Simpson.

Collins' white casket trimmed in red and black was surrounded by a flower arrangement of red roses, yellow and pink flowers and white carnations. Her granddaughter Barbara-Rose Collins II sang George Gershwin's "Summertime" at the service, wearing a large black hat like her grandmother liked to do.

People read the program during the memorial service for former U.S. Congresswoman Barbara-Rose Collins, Saturday morning, November 13, 2021.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans described Collins as a mentor, a 50-year friend and "100% Detroit."

"She lived, she breathed Detroit. That never waivered. That was Barbara-Rose Collins," Evans said.

Her political career spanned five decades, beginning with a 1971 run for a seat on the Detroit Board of Education, with positions held in the state House of Representatives and Detroit's City Council before her election to Congress in 1990. 

During her time on Capitol Hill, Collins was appointed the majority whip-at-large. She touted legislation on sexual harassment laws, equal pensions for women and helped to bring the Neighborhood Enterprise Zones to Detroit.

Officials, including, Detroit City Council at-large member-elect Coleman Young II, left, U.S. Rep.  Barbara Lawrence, sixth from left, and former Detroit City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr., eighth from left, stand and sing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" Saturday morning, November 13, 2021.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence acknowledged that Collins was the first black woman from Michigan elected to Congress. Lawrence said she herself is now the only African American member of Congress from Michigan.

"I stand here today to remind everyone that the greatest compliment of life is to walk in the shadows of a greatness of those who came before you," Lawrence said. "I stand here today in the shadow of Barbara-Rose Collins."

"There is some history we cannot allow to disappear," Lawrence said. "She is the one who introduced the bill to make Juneteenth a national holiday."

People hug each other during the memorial service for former U.S. Congresswoman Barbara-Rose Collins, Saturday morning, November 13, 2021.

Deonna Seaton of Detroit was Collins' hairdresser and attended the services on Saturday.

"She was a mentor to me. I've known her for 24 years. I love her," Seaton said. "She was a role model to many."

jchambers@detroitnews.com