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McMurry doctorate a 'tremendous honor,' Phil Collins says

Phil Collins tells McMurry University graduates that he plans to return to Abilene and Buffalo Gap. Phil Collins tells McMurry University graduates that he plans to return to Abilene and Buffalo Gap. Joy Lewis
Texas, with its 269,000 square miles, is big enough for two Dr. Phils.

On Saturday morning, the new Dr. Phil — Phillip David Charles Collins, the singer fans worldwide know just as Phil Collins — was awarded an honorary doctor of history degree during the spring commencement ceremony at McMurry University.

"This is a tremendous honor for me," Collins, wearing a maroon and white stole over his simple black gown, told a packed crowd in the J.W. Hunt Physical Education Center that included 181 candidates for graduation.

Collins joins Phillip Calvin McGraw, the psychologist and TV personality who grew up in Texas, as famous Phils with doctorates.

But this was not about how to "get real" or showing "tough love," as TV's Dr. Phil advises for relationship building. It was, as McMurry President John Russell said, to honor Collins for his interest in Texas history, particularly the battle of the Alamo, and efforts to keep the state's storied history preserved.

Collins' new book, "The Alamo and Beyond: A Collector's Journey," was compiled with the assistance of Texas history scholars and McMurry professors Don Frazier and Steve Hardin.

On Friday night, Collins participated in a book event at McMurry. About 120 copies of the oversized book, signed by Collins, have been sold, netting $15,000 for history scholarships at the university. He earlier made book-signing stops in Houston and San Antonio, and was due in Dallas on Saturday night for another event. Each was a fundraiser with ties to history.

"I've been on a tour a week," said Collins, who traveled for months on end with the rock band Genesis and as a solo artist in years past, "and that is as long as I want to be on tour anymore."

That said, Collins announced he is forming a new band — the Raving History Group — with those who have an interest in Texas history.

Collins' remarks were short but heartfelt.

"Be confident in everything you do," he told students who were only minutes away from becoming graduates. "But without being arrogant. Be adventurous but don't be dumb."

Not a college graduate, Collins, 61, said he would treasure his new academic standing and, noting the hospitality shown him in Abilene and Buffalo Gap, "I shall return."

He received a standing ovation and, drawing on his performing days, acknowledged all sides of the gym and blew kisses to the crowd.

Collins amiably participated in the morning's ceremony. He met briefly with the media, chatted with faculty queued up for their procession, stood with faculty outside Garrison Campus Center to clap for students as they departed the building and strolled across campus to the Hunt Center on a cool, cloudy morning with spits of rain in the air.

Before the ceremony, Collins said there was no turning point in his devoting more attention to collecting artifacts and documents, and researching and reading about Texas history.

"It has been continuous," he said, noting his interest as a youngster watching "Davy Crockett" and John Wayne's "The Alamo." "There was never any black-and-white point. No matter what else I was doing, making records or on tour, it always existed."

He recalled his first visit to the Alamo, today dwarfed by the buildings of downtown San Antonio.

"I was kind of spellbound," he said. He took photographs from his nearby hotel every night and every morning, though the view did not change. He said he felt compelled to do so.

The courage of those at the Alamo and the struggle for liberty ring true with him, he said. He hopes his research can shed more light on "the mystique as to what happened" those days in 1836.

Collins noted that his career as an entertainer steered him away from education — making $30 a week as the Artful Dodger in stage productions of "Oliver!" in London took precedence.

His family, he said, encouraged him to "follow my heart." On Saturday, he passed on that advice to those fortunate to have taken more time for a formal education.

While those defending the Alamo had a chance to leave, Collins is of the opinion they would've stayed if given a second chance to ride away. His own life, he said, follows the same course.

"My two oldest children have asked me, "Would you have done anything differently?'" he said. No, he told them.

"Yes, there are a few songs I wouldn't have written," he said, smiling. "But I would tell me as a boy, 'Keep doing what you're doing. There is not a master plan. One little turn in the road can change your life.'"

© Reporter-News, by Greg Jaklewicz
Last modified onSunday, 13 May 2012 22:37


Legendary British rock star Phil Collins has quite a passion for Texas history NBC 5 News

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