When Beaufort Memorial Hospital (BMH) unveiled its newly renovated Collins Birthing Center last month, it gave the community another opportunity to recognize the contributions of the late Dr. Earnest Collins, the area’s first OB-GYN.
But the birthing center’s namesake did far more than deliver babies in Beaufort. He created a family legacy of service now in its third generation.
“My father was among a small group of physicians who started from the ground up,” said BMH Medical Director of Laboratories Dr. Brad Collins, who joined the hospital in 1996, three years after his father retired. “We’re trying to build on that and improve the hospital every day.”
The family has a long history of supporting Beaufort Memorial Hospital Foundation’s annual Valentine Ball, a black tie fundraiser that has generated more than $5 million to improve services at the nonprofit hospital.
Dr. Earnest Collins and his wife Sue attended the inaugural Valentine Ball in 1990 and went on to serve as volunteer hosts of the private, pre-ball dinner parties that have made the event such a success.
Brad Collins and his wife Cindy carried on the tradition, hosting their first dinner party not long after moving back to Beaufort in 1996. In 2002, they served as co-chairs of the fundraiser, a mammoth endeavor requiring the help of hundreds of community volunteers.
Following her parents’ lead, Allison Coppage and her husband Ben volunteered for their first pre-ball dinner party in 2013. This year, they stepped up to serve as co-chairs of the event while Brad and Cindy Collins hosted their 19thpre-ball dinner party.
“The Valentine Ball has always and forever been a tradition in my family,” Coppage said. “We take great pride in the hospital and want to support it any way we can. It’s really an anchor of our community.”
Like her father and grandfather before her, Coppage also works for the hospital. A former in-house counsel for Beaufort County, she has served as Beaufort Memorial’s associate vice president of compliance and privacy for two years.
“When the opportunity presented itself to work for Beaufort Memorial, I jumped at the chance,” she said. “I saw how the hospital is growing to meet the needs of the community and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Her father, who had left the Lowcountry after his residency to work for Greenville Health System, felt the same draw. His contributions to the hospital have gone far beyond his role as a board-certified pathologist.
During his 23 years at BMH, Brad Collins has served as chief of medical staff, chaired several hospital committees, and started the multidisciplinary Tumor Conference and Blood Management Program. He also served on the Beaufort Memorial Hospital Foundation Board of Trustees for 10 years.
As it became more difficult for the hospital to obtain blood and services from the American Red Cross, Collins took it upon himself to find a community-based blood supplier capable of meeting Beaufort Memorial’s needs. Today, BMH has a more reliable and less expensive supply of high-quality blood products thanks to One Blood and Beaufort donors.
Despite his own significant contributions, Collins can’t help but admire his father’s unwavering dedication to the hospital and the community it serves.
“When our family thinks back on the personal sacrifice my dad made when he came in 1971, we can’t imagine how he did it,” Brad Collins said. “For four years he was on call 24/7.”
At that time, the father of three was the only OB-GYN between Charleston and Savannah.
“We had gone through a very demanding 10 ½ years of medical school and residency, so we were used to the long hours,” his widow, Sue said. “We were just so happy to be in Beaufort.”
It wasn’t until 1975 that he was able to recruit two partners, easing his workload.
With the practice well established, he became more involved with the hospital. As chairman of Beaufort Memorial’s credentialing committee, he spearheaded the drive to add board-certification requirements to the hospital bylaws.
He helped organize and charter the Beaufort County Medical Society and served as its president for several years. He also was a consultant to the county health department, Beaufort-Jasper Comprehensive Health Services and Beaufort Naval Hospital.
In 1994, Beaufort Memorial named its birthing center in his honor. As part of the recent $6 million renovation project, the all-new waiting area now features a tribute wall dedicated to his legacy.
“We don’t need a pat on the back,” Sue Collins said. “It’s why we came here – to make a better community.”
Among the thousands of babies who have been delivered in the Beaufort Memorial birthing center are two of Earnest Collins’ great-grandchildren.
“It was humbling to pass my grandfather’s picture as I went into the labor room,” said Coppage, who gave birth to her son Harris in 2014 and daughter Bette in 2016. “I feel so privileged to have had my kids in a place dedicated to him.”