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My Brown-Eyed Bishop

April 30, 2013
Norman Lee Van Collins III

My name is Dr. Norman L. Collins, Sr. I’m from Jackson, Mississippi, where I’m a proud father of seven children and eleven grandchildren.

Two years ago, my family suffered an unbelievable tragedy. Three months after my handsome grandson Norman Lee Van Collins III was born, I received a call that would change my life forever.

My grandson was a wonderful baby, with beautiful brown eyes, soft curly hair and a precious countenance. 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 the prophetic leadership we believed to be empowered by the Holy Spirit upon his life, 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 grandson. 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 several 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.

However, all of my aspirations for a bright future for Bishop and our family came to a tragic end on Sunday, May 29, 2011.

That’s 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 our three-month old Bishop.

After several more frantic phone calls, I eventually received word that our dear Bishop was dead. Grief-stricken, 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.  I finally 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.

I shall never forget when my son told me the details of what happened that awful day.

He, his wife, his daughter and Bishop were late arriving at church that morning. My son was the minister of music and his wife sang in the choir.

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 the custom 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 over, 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.

As one would imagine, the days since Bishop’s death have not been easy, but they’ve yielded several positives, including bringing to the forefront the need to build awareness of child safety in and around cars.

Bishop’s death was tragic and unintentional. It was the result of confusion and misunderstanding between two people. But above all it was preventable.

I have thought so many times how effective and valuable prevention messages would have been toward saving Bishop. If I can help save even one life, I’ll do what I can.

We all have a God-given right, responsibility, and reason to protect our children as well as each other.  While we cannot change what happened to our precious boy Bishop, as advocates, parents, teachers, rescuers and media, we can do something to help.

And if we keep working together and pledge to never stop talking, to never stop teaching and to never stop sharing, I truly believe that we can end these kinds of tragedies, once and for all.