Nick Collier, the former long-time circulation manager of the Georgia Straight, has died at the age of 68 after a two-year illness.
Collier passed away peacefully in the company of family and friends on March 21, about a week after entering a Vancouver hospice. He had previously undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments for esophageal cancer.
He was born Nicholas John Collier on April 30, 1949, in Beckenham, Kent, England, the youngest of four. According to family members, his lifelong love for animals, especially dogs, started when he was very young and became inseparable pals with his boxer, Bob. At that time, he also loved to dress up as his favourite heroes, including Wild West cowboys.
Collier emigrated to Canada with his mother, Marjorie (Pat) Collier, at age 14, in 1963. (His three sisters had previously moved to B.C.) They lived in Vancouver, where he attended Kitsilano high school. He moved in with older sister Jill Sydneysmith in West Vancouver when he was about 19 while his mother struggled to find work, graduating high school a year or two later.
Collier started work at the Georgia Straight as an in-house bookstore employee, then music writer and reviewer, around late 1974. The Straight—then a controversial alternative weekly owned by Dan McLeod, who had founded the paper in May 1967—attracted left-leaning academics, drug-law reformers, and social progressives of all types, and it was at that time that Collier also met up with a young and then unknown Irishman named Bob Geldof, pre–Boomtown Rats.
Geldof became the Straight’s music editor for about a year (a position Collier took over after Geldof departed for Ireland and future fame later in 1975), and Collier, McLeod, and Geldof became fast friends. Collier would later visit Geldof whenever he vacationed in England.
Later in the 1970s, Collier briefly filled in as Straight editor, freelanced music articles for local papers and magazines, did some travel writing, and indulged his love of gourmet foods by writing restaurant reviews for an early version of Vancouver Magazine. (“He loved Japanese food,” McLeod says. “And he’d love to go to a good French restaurant.”)
In 1977 he became a partner in the ill-fated Vancouver weekly Metro, which folded after a year. Collier drove cab for a while (once giving a ride to legendary jazz pianist Count Basie), then met and married American Juliane Van Nostrand in 1981.
Collier and Van Nostrand moved to Los Angeles a few years later, where Collier probably surprised a few people by becoming a stockbroker. Friend Chris Stepien says Collier’s brokerage work “kind of fell into his lap” through family contacts, “but he got fed up with it and wanted to come back to Canada”.
One story of those L.A. days concerns Collier being invited to a party at the home of Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics fame) but being kicked out by his superstar host after getting in an argument about then-president Ronald Reagan. “He enjoyed playing the contrarian sometimes,” McLeod says of Collier.
In 1989, the couple returned to Vancouver, where Collier worked stocks until 1991, when he quit.
He and Juliane divorced soon after, although they remained friends, and he came back to the Straight in March 1992 as circulation manager, a position he would hold until his retirement in May 2009. McLeod says he was “quite surprised” that Collier wanted the position, given how different it was from anything he had done previously.
It was in this job that Collier excelled, according to Yolanda Stepien, who managed the paper’s distribution walkers. She says he introduced the iconic black paper boxes, brought driver distribution back to the Straight premises from the printer, and commanded a small fleet of extremely loyal drivers. She says he also presided over a large increase in the Straight’s circulation.
Although Collier liked to hide out in his ground-level office, his sonorous but cheerful voice could often be heard when he visited the editorial and production areas.
Long-time driver and Collier assistant Kelvin Lum says, “He pretty much taught me everything about distribution.” And Lum says Collier made sure his drivers were treated well: “He always fought for us in every way.”
In retirement, Collier loved his frequent trips to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, where he would stay for a month or more.
In a letter to Collier received just days before his death, Geldof said: “I hope there’s no ‘I wish I’d done this and that’ sort of shite going on with you? You are a bon vivant. You love women, wine, travel, sun, hanging out, talking shit, and you managed to do all of that. Not bad man, not bad. That identity—Nick Collier got around and did what he liked doing. Not many can say that.”
Collier was predeceased by his mother and his sister Carol. He is survived by sister Jill Sydneysmith and her children, Robin, Kelly, and Andrew; sister Penelope “Penni” Ball and her child, Matthew; Carol’s children, Craig, Blake, Adam, Jason, and Samantha; and ex-wife Juliane Van Nostrand and her son, Michael McCuaig (Vancouver).
A celebration of life for Nick Collier will be held (at a venue to be determined) on June 23. As per his wishes, his ashes will be scattered on his beloved Jericho Beach, where he spent uncounted hours with his dogs.