Boxing coach Rayford Collins dies at 77
The Jackson Sun
Rhonda and Rayford Collins went through a lot in 22 years of marriage as Rhonda helped Rayford continue his work that totaled more than five decades training young boxers in Jackson.
The couple experienced the final chapter of their marriage in this life when Rayford died a little before 5 p.m. Monday. He was 77.
“He was the love of my life and my soulmate, and I feel like a part of me died when Rayford died,” Rhonda said Monday night.
Rayford’s health had been declining for months. Since Christmas, there hadn’t been many days he spent outside the hospital. He fell out of his wheelchair a couple of weeks ago, and the fall had affected his speech to the point he wasn’t understandable most of the time.
His eyes seemed to stare off in space more and more in the past few days, and his communication to everyone including his family had decreased.
Rhonda said they’d feared Rayford had died Monday morning when he seemed to have stopped breathing, but a gasp when a light came on in his room seemed to start his lungs back to working.
“The nurse said she thought maybe Rayford was holding on, so I talked with him today and told him if he’s ready to go then he needs to go ahead and go,” Rhonda said as she fought back tears. “I’ve learned so much from him, and I told him I’ll be OK if he lets go now.”
She said she mentioned both her and his parents were waiting for him along with a few close friends who’ve passed on as well as deceased family pets.
“I told him they’re all waiting on him, and when he sees them he needs to run to them with arms wide open and tell them I miss them and can’t wait to see them again,” Rhonda said. “Then I kissed him.
“After that he made eye contact with me and pursed his lips together and said ‘kiss.’ So I kissed him again and told him I loved him. And I laid there with my arms around him talking to him and telling him we’d be OK if he wanted to go. I asked him if he saw [their pets] Cocoa and Rascal. He said yeah and stopped breathing, and he was gone.”
Rhonda said she was glad to know her husband wasn’t suffering anymore, and she was grateful for the time she had with him.
“I learned so much from him, and I can do so much now I never thought I could do before I met him,” Rhonda said. “And there are so many people in this town who can say the same thing.”
Rhonda said Rayford had done a good job of planning his arrangements before they’d even gotten married. She said there will be visitation Thursday and Friday from 5-9 p.m. and the funeral is planned for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. George A. Smith and Sons Funeral Home is handling the arrangements, and Rhonda said the venue of the funeral is yet to be determined.
“I think a lot of people will want to be a part of the service, so we want to make sure we’re in a big enough place,” Rhonda said.
Rayford began boxing when he was a teenager in the 1950s and began coaching in the mid-60s. He continued to do so for more than 50 years.
Collins coached and managed the Jackson Boxing Club and conducted tournaments at Golden Gloves Arena for decades.
Collins, who also worked in The Jackson Sun’s press room for more than 40 years, was inducted into the Jackson-Madison County Sports Hall of Fame in 1989 and honored again by the organization with a lifetime achievement honor in 2015.
The highlight of his career was when one of his boxers, Jackie Beard, qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team, and Rayford was slated to be the team’s coach. But President Jimmy Carter announced the U.S. would boycott the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow because the Russians had invaded Afghanistan.
“He took a once-in-a-lifetime moment away from those kids, those coaches and Rayford,” Rhonda said. “But Rayford loved what he did and loved those kids.”
Brandon Shields, 425-9751
The Jackson Sun