Clearwater High School music teacher Rosemary Caldwell Collins wasn’t especially concerned about feeling a bit under the weather Monday.
The Pinellas County Schools holiday break had just begun. Collins and her son, Griffin, spent Sunday putting up Christmas decorations in their Palm Harbor home. The 51-year-old wife and mother was clearly in the holiday spirit.
“There was nothing unusual,” said Griffin. “It was just a regular day with my mom.”
As always, music resounded throughout the Collins home.
Rosemary served as a music teacher and choir director at Ponce De Leon Elementary School for 15 years, then shared her talents with students at Safety Harbor Middle School. In 2009, she was a finalist for Pinellas Teacher of the Year. And in 2017 she was named the choir director at Clearwater High School.Subscribe
She was also president of the Pinellas County Music Educators Association and was recognized by the Florida Music Education Association as an emerging leader.
In her spare time, she was the director of music at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Clearwater. Rosemary’s husband, Stan, is director of instrumental music at Calvary Church in Clearwater. Griffin and his sister, Lindsey, are musicians as well. In fact, Griffin was a 2020 Walker’s Rising Stars vocal category scholarship recipient at Tarpon Springs High School. Rosemary also enjoyed watching her son perform the part of Aaron Burr in a performance of “The Hamilton Project”
“She was amazing,” said Lisa Hays Gillum of her recent performance of “O Holy Night.” “This was a beautiful example of her training and dedication to her art. I am heartbroken.”
On Monday, Rosemary learned she may have been exposed to the coronavirus. She promptly made an appointment on Tuesday to be tested although she wasn’t showing symptoms. In fact, she went for her usual evening walk Monday, said Griffin.
But on Tuesday, Griffin said his mother began to experience muscle weakness and had trouble walking. Stan Collins took his wife to her appointment at the hospital where she tested positive for the coronavirus.
Griffin and Lindsey were about to leave the house to meet their parents and get their own tests when they received a call that Griffin said knocked the wind out of him.
In the 20 minutes since they received the call notifying them that their mother tested positive for the coronavirus, she was dead.
“I can’t even put my feelings into words,” Griffin said. “Is there a word that means sorrow but worse?”
Griffin said making music and teaching students were among his mother’s greatest joys in life.
“She lived for her family, her music and her students,” Griffin said.
Friends and colleagues described Rosemary as funny, cheerful and talented.
“What a beautiful voice. What a beautiful soul,” said Libby Macaluso Lama. “So sad to lose her. Unfair.”
“Her voice was angelic,” said Judy Goodwin McGehee. “She is singing with the angels now. What a worldly loss.”
“Rosemary was a bright spot in what has been a dull and sad year,” said LaMar MacNutt. “It’s so sad to see that spark extinguished.”
“I will so miss her, joking with her, singing and working on FVA (the Florida Vocal Association),” said Karen Bail, a vocal music and musical theater teacher at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts. “A gorgeous woman both inside and out.”
Bail noted that Broadway star Rebecca Luker died Wednesday, the day after Rosemary’s death.
Between the two, “the heavens are filled with beautiful soprano sounds,” she said.
But back in Palm Harbor, the Collins house is uncharacteristically silent. Griffin said he can’t imagine not hearing his mother’s songs fill the home.
The family is planning a celebration of life service in the spring when the coronavirus threat lessens. In the meantime, a GoFundMe memorial fund has been set up by Rosemary’s sister, Ann Caldwell Adair, to support Rosemary’s desire to create a fund for music in Pinellas County Schools.
“The last couple of days have been very difficult. Her family is going to need our love and support in the coming days, weeks, months and years,” said Adair. “Contributing to this fund is investing in the future of music and my sister’s legacy.”
“The best way to pay tribute to my mother is by supporting music in the schools,” said Griffin. “People can either donate to her memorial fund or donate to Pinellas County Music Education.”