LENOIR, N.C. – Wesley Enoch Collins, a past president at Bernhardt and a former president and chairman of the American Furniture Manufacturers Assn., died on July 20 at age 96.
Collins was born on a Stokes County, N.C., tobacco farm. He graduated from Guilford College in 1948 and later completed an advanced management training program at the University of North Carolina. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and trained as a fighter pilot. During the Korean Conflict, he flew 24 combat missions and achieved the rank of captain. After his service, he remained involved in the reserves.
He started his career in the furniture industry as a trainee at Heritage Furniture, rotating through every phase of the manufacturing process, with a focus on upholstery.
Collins’ work caught the attention of John Christian Bernhardt, who recruited him to join the company and initiate its “Flair” upholstery division. Shortly after, he was named company president. In addition to Bernhardt, he headed Broyhill and Universal Furniture. He also served as a president and board chairman of the American Furniture Manufacturers Assn.
He served as an elder at Lenoir Presbyterian Church and as a board member at Caldwell Memorial Hospital, leading a $2.5 million fundraising campaign for the hospital. Collins was also a Guardian Ad Litem volunteer, a Boy Scout leader, a chairman of the United Way and a board member of Caldwell House.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 66 years, Joy Dearmin; two brothers, John and Thomas Collins; and is survived by his youngest brother James Collins.
Collins had three children, Samuel, Wesley Jr. and Elizabeth Jane, who died at 44; six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. In 2015, he married Gail Clark, from Pinehurst, N.C.