Thomas L. Collins was born in Vinita, Oklahoma on October 27, 1919, the youngest of four children. He met and married Isabel Kaufman at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, and almost as soon as they were old enough to drive, they moved to New York. He said that when he first saw the Manhattan skyline, he said to himself, "I'm home."

After their three daughters were born, Tom and Isabel moved to Great Neck, Long Island, where Tom became active in the local Democratic Party. He was a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in 1956 (for Adlai Stevenson) and 1968 (for Eugene McCarthy) and actively involved in the movement to draft Stevenson in 1960.

He began his advertising career as a copywriter for Simon and Schuster and over the years rose to become Vice President and Creative Director of Wunderman Advertising, the first full-service direct marketing agency. In 1965 he and Stan Rapp formed Rapp & Collins, their own direct-marketing agency. It was acquired ten years later by what became Omnicom, now one of the world's elite global agencies.

In 1972, Morris Dees, then a Rapp and Collins client, collaborated with Tom on what became the start of direct mail fundraising in Presidential campaigns. Dees reflects that "[t]he mailing package Tom crafted announcing McGovern's candidacy and the thousands of mailings that followed made political fund-raising history, and, according to McGovern, were the reason he got the nomination. Often I reread Tom's six-page announcement letter and get goose bumps. Tom touched the soul of a troubled America and gave McGovern's voice a simple yet powerful resonance."

Tom continued to pioneer in what became a new, more personal way of connecting advertiser and customer. As Tom Rollins, for whom Tom wrote the ad for The Teaching Company (now Great Courses) that propelled them to success, and whose headline is still used today, says "He is personally responsible for the 1:1 marketing revolution." His partner Stan Rapp summarized his influence: "On the creative side of that marketing revolution none stands taller than Tom Collins. Tom was at the forefront of the turnaround from mass marketing to the responsive, individualized, data-driven advertising of the Information Age. He inspired and mentored those who followed with his uncanny ability to take the consumer by the hand and create a relationship leading to a positive outcome. The high point of my business life was to be at his side during those momentous years of change for advertising and marketing."

 In 1986, the two partners published MaxiMarketing, which trailblazed the use of computer technology for database marketing and advertising accountability. Advertising giant David Oglivy said of it: "The authors of this book are competitors of mine, but that does not blind me to its value. Everyone who is in advertising must read it."

For five years Collins wrote a column on direct-marketing advertising copy principles for Direct Marketing magazine, about which Dees recalls: "Tom's Readable Writing column in the Direct Marketing Magazine endeared
him to thousands of struggling young ad writers. He took the most mundane boring letter or direct response ad and turned them into marketing magic."He was featured on the front cover of the magazine for an article on "the great American copywriter." Later, he wrote a column called "The Makeover Maven" that ran in Direct Magazine for 10 years, in which he tried to illuminate the way that print ads could be used to draw readers to the advertiser's website.  Tom stopped writing the column only when Direct ceased print publication in 2009, when he was 89.

Tom was also a madcap inventor, in both fantasy and real life, constantly dreaming up new "million dollar ideas." He created and produced the MAD strait jacket and the Alfred E Newman for President Campaign Kit. 

His wife Isabel was a therapist, and toward the end of wife her life, Tom co-counselled with her in some of her group therapy sessions, where he had a profound impact on many lives.  Isabel died in 1985, and Tom spent much of the next 20 years exploring on his own the city he so loved and never tired of.  His daughter Candida died in 1987, but he remained close to the surviving twins, Jill Hinckley and Jeneva Miller.

In 2004, his health caused him to move to Portland, Oregon to live with daughter Jill.  He died at her home, peacefully in his sleep, of pancreatic cancer, early on the morning of March 1, 2013, witty and compassionate to the end.

There will be no memorial service, but please post your rembrances of Tom as a comment below.  Nothing would please him more than if you remembered him with a donation to the Democratic National Committee, at Democrats.org.


  1. Jill and Jenny, it’s your birthday and I’m thinking of you from Maine where I live with my husband and terrier. So many memories pop up all the time of the two of you, Candy and your parents. Hope you’re well. Happy Birthday from a founding member of the Little Loving Laughing Larrys ❤️

  2. Was just reading about Thomas as I am an avid MAD collector and was sorry to hear about his passing. My father and grandparents lived in Great Neck, I can only imagine how far from the creator of the MAD straight jacket and campaign kit! So many questions, wish I could have spoken with him. Sorry for your loss.