By Kristina Smith / Staff Reporter
Nelda Lambert Barton-Collings passed away Friday, and, according to U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers, “Kentucky has lost a true jewel.”
Born in Providence, Kentucky on May 12, 1929, Barton-Collings was raised in the Bluegrass State and that is where her heart stayed despite her many world travels. Barton-Collings graduated as valedictorian from Providence High School, went on to attend Western Kentucky University and then graduated from the Norton Memorial Infirmary School of Medical Technology.
In May of 1951, she married Harold Bryan Barton, MD, who is now deceased, and had five children, one deceased. She spent most of her adult life in Corbin and later married Jack Clayton Collings, MD of Owensboro, now deceased.
Her son H. Bryan Barton Jr. describes her as “a woman who wanted to do her best for her community, her family and for God.”
Barton-Collings was active, and successful, in business endeavors throughout the community. With her partnership with Terry Forcht, Barton-Collings was involved in banking, nursing homes, newspapers and other small business ventures.
Barton-Collings was also very active in the realm of politics and received numerous recognitions for her work. She was the first woman to serve as Chairperson of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and a past Vice President of Southeastern Kentucky Rehabilitation Industries. Barton-Collings served on the Kentucky Council on Economic Education, the Kentucky Commission of Women and the Partnership for Kentucky School Reform, was Charter Board Director for Leadership Kentucky and on the National Advisory Council for the Small Business Administration.
Barton-Collings served as council for two presidents in her lifetime. She was on President Reagan’s Federal Council on Aging and the Council for International Affairs. She also served on President Bush’s Council on Rural America.
Barton said his mother’s political career reflected her desire to help others.
“She traveled a lot to spread the ideals of freedom and free enterprise throughout the country and throughout the world,” Barton said. “What she did always had a purpose.”
Barton-Collings traveled to Moscow once to speak, but Barton-Collings’ son said some of his most fond memories included a trip to Alaska with his mother.
“One of my favorite memories of mom was how much she loved to fish,” Barton said. So one year they went to Alaska to do just that, but that was after Barton-Collings learned how to cast a rod.
Barton retold the story of how his mother was told she couldn’t go fishing with her husband until she learned how to cast a fishing rod, or, more specifically, until she could cast it accurately.
“Dad put a big wash tub out in the yard and he told her she couldn’t go fishing with him until she cast into that wash tub three out of five times,” Barton recalled.
Barton-Collings sat and practiced casting her fishing rod until she could do just that. It wasn’t much longer until she was out-fishing the men, her son says.
“She always joked that she caught so many because she wasn’t strong enough to pull the line so hard that they broke off,” Barton said.
Barton-Collings was blessed with many honors over the years, of which her son says are too numerous to recall from memory. However, Barton-Collings was the first woman to give a major address at the Republic National Convention in 1980 and she was very fond of receiving an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of the Cumberlands, Barton says.
In her passing, Congressman Rogers released a statement saying, “Nelda Barton-Collings was a woman ahead of her time, pioneering new avenues in the business world and proclaiming her dedication to conservative principles. She captivated crowds with her dynamic personality and southern charm, yet took the time to guide and mentor individuals of all ages and social status. Nelda was a pillar for Southeastern Kentucky, proud of her hometown and always prepared to advocate for progress in the region. Her savvy business sense and steadfast Republican values have been highlighted at every level, drawing state-wide and national attention as a woman who could not be shaken.”
Barton-Collings is survived by four children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren of whom she shared “so many good memories” with, according to Barton.
Barton-Collings’ visitation will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the O’Neil-Lawson Funeral Home. Services will be at Grace on the Hill United Methodist Church at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
The family asks that donations be made to Hospice of the Bluegrass, who took care of her in her final days, in lieu of flowers.
Barton-Collings passed away at her home surrounded by family.
“Her life was such a blessing,” said Barton.