After 20 years as a professional ice skater, Tom Collins formed a figure-skating tour in 1969.
The tour, initially called the Tour of World Figure Skating Champions, started modestly with about a dozen shows every two or three years.
The tour eventually changed its name to Champions on Ice and put on shows in as many as 90 cities, selling out 20,000-seat arenas.
The tour included Olympic figure-skating stars like Brian Boitano, Nancy Kerrigan, Michelle Kwan and Kristi Yamaguchi.
“Tom was very selective on his cast,” Boitano said. “I was very lucky. I always felt that when I made the Champions of Ice tour, I really felt like I had made it as a skater. That I had been noticed.”
Boitano said that the skaters in the show benefited from Collins’ background as a figure skater.
“He understood the demands,” said Boitano, who won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, and was a world champion in 1986 and 1988. “He knew about the performances and the travel and being on a show with one-nighters. He was well-rounded and savvy.”
Collins, of Edina, died on Sept. 1 from natural causes at his home. He was 88.
“He had a lot of heart,” said Boitano. “I saw him in May [at a Champions on Ice reunion in Minneapolis], and it made me realize what a family we were. You spend five months on the road touring with people and you get to know them. I’ll really miss him.”
Collins was born April 3, 1931, to James and Martha Collins in the small northeastern Ontario mining town of Kirkland Lake. He started out playing hockey before turning to figure skating. To pay for skating lessons, he left school after eighth grade and joined his father working inside a local gold mine.
“He told me that he got in those cages and he and his dad, with their helmets on, went 4,000 feet underground,” said Sandy Reed, who was an assistant to Collins for 25 years. “He was 14 and that’s the way it was then. He might have been better at hockey. He took up figure skating. His sister, Marty, was already in a show in the United States.”
Collins quickly developed as a figure skater, winning the Northern Ontario Novice Men’s Championship. In 1949, he joined the Minneapolis-based Holiday on Ice tour as a chorus skater. He soon became the headliner of the show.
“He started out skating but eventually did everything,” said Reed. “He sold candy at intermission.”
In his two decades with Holiday on Ice, he eventually became the general manager and vice president. During that time, he started his own promotion and merchandising company, working with musicians like the Beach Boys, John Denver, Neil Diamond and Bob Dylan.
He ran Champions on Ice for 37 years before selling the tour to Anschutz Entertainment Group in 2006.
According to the U.S. Figure Skating’s website, Collins was the organization’s top individual benefactor. The headquarters in Colorado Springs is based in the Tom Collins Building.
“Everyone wanted to do their best for him, because he always put the skaters first,” said Reed. “He was friends with the janitor and he was friends with Neil Diamond. His generosity stands out.”
Collins is survived by sons Mark, Martin and Michael, and six grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife Jane (Janie) Morris, a 1956 Miss America contestant as Miss Georgia, whom he met when she skated for Holiday on Ice.
Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Edina.
Joel Rippel • 612-673-4719.