LEWISTON — Joan Collins, 88, of Lewiston, one of the original founders of John F. Murphy Homes, died in Auburn on Friday, Feb. 3.

She was born in Waterville on Jan. 31, 1929, the daughter of John and Mabel (Lackedy) Byron. She was a graduate of Bangor High School and the University of Maine, where she graduated with honors, earning a Bachelor of Arts in zoology in 1950. After earning her degree, Joan worked as a research assistant at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor until she married James Edward Collins of Bangor in 1953. She then moved with her husband to Argentia, Newfoundland, where her husband served in the U.S. Navy for two years. Joan lived with her family in Uxbridge, Mass., from 1955 until 1960 when she moved to Lewiston, where she settled for over the next 50 years. She dedicated her life to raising her five children.

After her last son, Jeff, was born with Down syndrome, she and her husband, Jim, focused their lives on establishing educational services, programs and housing for people with intellectual disabilities. At the time of Jeff’s birth, institutionalization was considered the accepted standard of care; information regarding developmental disabilities was virtually nonexistent; and there was no mandated education. Joan and Jim, along with other dedicated parents and concerned individuals, successfully passed the Special Education Law in Maine, two years ahead of the national law. As Jeff grew and approached adulthood, deinstitutionalization became the new standard of care. At the time, while there were private, nonprofit groups forming to support integration of individuals into the community, there was no place for them to live other than with their families.

Joan and Jim, along with many others, wanted to make sure that their son, and others with developmental disabilities who could not care for themselves, had a place to live where they were safe and loved. The couple was instrumental in founding the John F. Murphy Homes, an organization that provides housing and enrichment programs for people with developmental disabilities.

In 2003, Joan received a lifetime achievement award to honor her work in support of people with developmental disabilities. There are now over 54 John F. Murphy residential facilities, and Jeffrey is currently a resident in one of the homes. John F. Murphy Homes is one of the largest employers in the Lewiston-Auburn area. After her husband’s death in 1981, Joan was appointed to the State Advisory Committee on Mental Retardation, where she was able to exert her influence in her role as an advocate. By that time, mental retardation had been identified as a disability that qualified for mandated services. Joan was one of the forward thinkers who helped build on that foundation, working to change the law and societal attitudes, so that people with autism were also included under the umbrella of what is referred to as developmental disabilities. In addition to her work on the State Advisory Committee, Joan actively served as one of the original members of the board of directors of the John F. Murphy Homes, serving for many years.

Joan’s passions included listening to music, playing the piano, traveling, reading, working in her yard, and drinking good coffee. Joan loved her dogs and cared deeply for them, and she had great fondness for her neighbors, who were also her friends. Her greatest joy in life was seeing her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who brought her so much happiness.

Survivors include her daughters, Carol Goldsmith and her husband, Dana, of Rockland, and Sandra Collins of Anchorage, Alaska; sons, James of Farmington, and John and Jeffrey of Lewiston; five granddaughters; two great-grandsons; and a sister, Eleanor Gove of Lewiston.

She was predeceased by her husband, James, and her sister, Theresa Coleman. Donations, condolences, and a video tribute may be accessed online at www.albert-burpee.com.

Joan Collins

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