‘Come forth’: Bestselling author and county resident dies at 80. | TheUnion.com

‘Come forth’: Bestselling author and county resident dies at 80.

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

SERVICE

The family has scheduled a private memorial service for Peter Collier.

Much of the world knew him as a prolific author.

In the last few decades Peter Collier became known for stories he wrote on dynastic American families: “The Kennedys,” “The Fords,” “The Rockefellers,” “The Fondas,” “The Roosevelts.”

Among the public intelligentsia, he was known as someone who transitioned from an activist on the political left to a rising star on the right, along with his friend and colleague David Horowitz.

But those people — the wider public — were both literally and metaphorically far from his life in Nevada City.

His friends — often knowing nothing of his professional life, family members say — knew him simply as “Peter” or “Pete.” To his grandchildren, he was “Papi.”

On Nov. 1, the longtime writer, editor and county resident Peter Collier, 80, died of leukemia in a Sacramento hospital.

THEIR OWN WALDEN

It was 1974 when Peter, then working on “The Rockefellers,” ventured out of the Bay Area with his wife, Mary. The two had rented a home in Downieville but were disappointed by its infestation of bees and began heading back down the hill. On their way, the Collier’s grabbed a newspaper and saw a rental house in Grass Valley. They booked it almost without hesitation.

From then on, the family began staying more frequently in Grass Valley. For them, it was idyllic. In the morning Peter would write, and in the afternoon the family would head to the Yuba River or Graniteville, exploring the surrounding nature and small-town feel.

“We just really got to know the area and fell in love with it,” said Mary.

In March 1976, they moved to the place — their “romantic past” — the family has called home for over 40 years, becoming part of the first wave of Bay Area residents to transition to the area, said Mary.

Peter’s wife recalled the sounds of croaking frogs greeting them when they first arrived. Their home became a project. The family did radical reconstruction work, investing in the space that stretches to Willow Valley Road by a driveway maybe a quarter-mile long.

In 1980, after only staying during weekends, vacations and summers, the family decided to relocate permanently. It’s where Mary and Peter’s children — Andrew, Caitlin and Nicholas Collier — grew up.

They developed a vegetable garden, growing corn, Italian beans and more. They had chickens. And they collected chestnuts — 600 pounds of them some years, according to Mary.

Peter, said Andrew, wanted to live with purpose, “Where you have the space — the contemplative space and the physical space — to be able to live an intentional life.”

‘SON, HUSBAND, FATHER’

While Peter was publicly becoming disenchanted with the political left and exploring alternative ideologies with David Horowitz, he continued investing in his private life.

The author frequently took his wife and kids with him while doing research for his books.

They went out to New York when he was doing sourcing for “The Rockefellers.” Later, when he was digging into past materials for “The Roosevelts,” family members recall traversing Eleanor Roosevelt’s cottage with him as well as the badlands in North Dakota where Theodore Roosevelt National Park lies.

“His family was always a part of his work in a sense,” said Mary.

Anecdotes of his writing would pepper discussions throughout these trips and later manifest in chapters when it later became published.

“It (was) part of an ongoing, ever-expanding dialogue and teaching,” said Andrew, explaining his father’s parenting method. “He would let you come to the question and then there would be a discussion about what was happening.”

Recently, Peter’s longtime friend Mark Johnson wrote to Mary about an earlier correspondence of theirs. The topic of death had arisen, and Johnson said Peter knew the proper gravestone.

“‘Peter Collier: son, husband, father.’”

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

The bestselling author was engaged in Nevada County.

He was a board member with the Nevada City School District, said Mary, in addition to being a Little League baseball coach. He also founded a Nevada City girl’s softball league — as there were few spaces for women ball players then.

Universal education was a priority.

“He wanted those kids to have a really good education, to have an enriching education — one that would prepare them for the future,” said Mary. (Mary feels similar, herself having founded The Friendship Club.)

Many of those closest to him in the area had no idea of Peter’s professional stature — some didn’t even know what he did for a living.

Mark Levinson, a friend who was part of Peter’s fantasy baseball league, recently wrote a mass email to the group noting that Peter will be missed partly for how he prioritized friendship over politics.

Not one of them knew what Peter did for a living, said Andrew.

Embedded in his interpersonal relationships was a desire to be vulnerable with others. “‘Come forth,’” Peter would tell Andrew, and those individuals will reciprocate, often becoming close friends.

The expression became a family motto.

OF KIERKEGAARD AND KEANU REEVES

Peter attended elementary school with the rich and famous of Hollywood, which he himself was not: his parents scraped by to give him a private education, said Mary. Before getting picked up from school, (while the other kids were taken home by their drivers, said Andrew) the head mistress would take Peter to watch old Western films. It may have been the genesis of his interest in cinema, popular culture and storytelling.

“He would quote long lines from these movies because he saw them probably four or five times,” said Mary.

Part of the rising middle class as a child, Peter’s living family members described his mother as an intellectual, and a great conversationalist.

“Her interest in having him succeed pushed him forward,” said Mary.

Consequently, he read.

Peter had a range of beloved authors, including John Updike, Philip Roth, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. But he also relished in pop culture, including “Game of Thrones,” and scouted good television shows to watch before they premiered, always notifying his friends and family members.

“Outward facing,” said Andrew, “(Peter) was a guy living the life of the mind in the public square. Inward facing, he was in the community for many many years, pulled more into the core of things.”

The acclaimed author, said Andrew, could quote Soren Kierkegaard and Keanu Reeves from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” in the same breath.

“He was always the smartest guy in the room but nobody knew it,” he said.

For about 35 years he would hang out twice weekly with a group of squash-playing friends — Dr. Bill Newsom, Mark Johnson, Clive Sewell, William “Buzz” Crouch and Tom Wolfe. But the best part, according to Johnson and Sewell, came after the games, when they’d discuss politics, their family lives and pop culture.

Johnson, who owns Foothill Flowers and ran for office on multiple occasions becoming Grass Valley mayor twice said Peter was always available whenever he needed him.

“He just gave me some amazing, loving and caring, sage advice that I will cherish forever,” said Johnson.

Among all of his work, Peter also wrote a children’s book (“The King’s Giraffe”) with Mary, and two novels. One of which — “Things in Glocca Morra” — is set to be published in the coming months.

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.


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