WINCHESTER – News 4 reporter Pat Collins is well-known for carrying a stick to measure large amounts of snow for viewers watching his TV news reports.
At Friday’s Ladies’ Horticultural Luncheon, sponsored by The Women’s Auxiliary of the Virginia State Horticultural Society, Collins was the featured speaker, and he carried the stick with him to cheers and smiles from the crowd of the 92nd Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival.
“What if it snows over the stick?” came a question from Margaret Enloe, 10, of Purcellville.
“If it snows over the stick,” Collins answered her, “we just have to glue two of them together.”
Collins was 15 when he developed an interest in journalism and started writing sports stories.
“I didn’t learn to write in school,” Collins recalled. “I learned to write from some grizzled old newspaper fellows.”
His father wasn't happy about it.
“Somewhere it’s written that if your father is a doctor, then you have to be a doctor, too,” Collins said, earning giggles from the crowd.
Asked later if his father ever forgave him for pursuing a career in journalism, Collins had to think for a moment.
“He was a very hard parent,” Collins recalled. “He was a very strict parent. He was a very hard, strict parent.”
In fact, Collins said he chose to attend Notre Dame University because it was the farthest requisite Catholic school away from his dad.
But Collins said thinks over the years it’s softened his father’s resolve whenever someone mentions seeing his son on TV.
“In the end, he was sort of proud of me,” Collins said.
The Ladies’ Luncheon is one of the oldest events of The Bloom, and like the rest of the festival, it’s grown over the years.
Winchester resident Diane Foreman said she enjoys it every year.
“It’s just grown and grown and grown,” she said. “I love it because you see people that this is the only time you see.”
A little sad to admit that, she added that it’s nice catching up with old friends who might fall out of touch with each other the rest of the year, especially at such a fun event.
“This is how everybody should be all the time,” she said.
Her daughter Vicki Lewis, of Stephens City, has been coming to the luncheon “ever since I was in high school.”
“I just feel like it’s a classy way to start off the festivities,” she said.
Plus, her mother added, there are “always great speakers.”
Sue Couper, of Stephens City, was there for the first time and was excited to hear Collins speak.
“He is funny,” she said, looking forward to his “dry sense of humor.”
Collins has been in television for 46 years.
“Basically, my career has morphed into two things,” he told the crowd. “I cover murders and I measure snow.”
“Did you know that my snow stick has like 4,600 followers on Twitter?" he said. "The stick. Not me, the stick."
It has markings for all the big snows from all over the years, he said, but it also has markings for measuring new snow, which gives it “a little history, a little now.”
Over the years, he said, he’s covered more than 10,000 stories on television. He’s been to six Olympics and three Super Bowls.
“I’ve done countless stories on storms that have names,” he said. “I’ve done stories of all kinds of crimes and terror and unspeakable acts."
“My goal is to go out and tell an interesting story in a compelling way," he said.
Now working on a book, he said he was considering titling it for one of his favorite questions to ask people he’s interviewing: “What do you make of this?”
It’s a question designed to elicit a long and interesting answer. But he decided against using it as a book title, for fear of reviewers who might sarcastically answer, “not much.”
“So,” he said, “the title’s still a work in progress.”