Patricia Collins with a photo of Neil Armstrong and her husband aboard Apollo 11 in 1969.
Surrounded by friends and family in her Houston home in 1966, Patricia Collins quietly worried about her astronaut husband. Years later, she wrote that at a time of day when “women all over the country are greeting husbands on their return from work, ” Michael Collins was in orbit, “dangling and twirling on the end of a 50-foot lifeline that coils precariously out of the open hatch of the Gemini 10 spacecraft.”
After the spacewalk was over, she stepped outside where “microphones were thrust into my face, cameras clicked and whirred, questions flew, and I, in carefully articulated phrases, said that I was delighted to be part of this great adventure, pleased with its success, proud of Mike, ” she wrote in an account published in the Globe in 1974.
All that was true, of course, but there were other feelings that decorum prevented her from disclosing publicly. She recounted her emotions during the seemingly endless minutes when he worked outside the Gemini capsule, when “chest aching from holding my breath, heart trembling to burst right through my shirt, I uncoil numb legs and begin to pace stiffly, praying half-aloud, ‘Dear God, let it be over.’ ”
An articulate writer who eloquently captured the behind-the-scenes concerns and challenges wives of astronauts faced during the Gemini and Apollo missions, Mrs. Collins died April 19 in the Marina Bay skilled nursing center in Quincy of complications of a stroke she suffered in September. She was 83 and divided her time between Quincy and Marco Island, Fla.
In 1969, before her husband set off on the first lunar landing mission, when he piloted the Apollo 11 command module orbiting above while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon’s surface below, Mrs. Collins wrote him a poem that included the verse:
Take my silence, though intended;
Fill it with the joy you feel.
Take my courage, now pretended —
You, my love, will make it real.
The courage the couple shared was all that the public, and even her friends and children, ever saw. By extension, her fortitude provided solace for those around her.
“I don’t recall ever feeling any fear about what Dad did, ” said her daughter Kate of Chicago. “I don’t remember any fear about it at all. I think my mother carried that all herself.”
No stranger to meeting responsibility with inner strength, Patricia Mary Finnegan was the oldest of nine children born in Dorchester into a politically accomplished family.
Her mother, Julia Kendrigan, was the daughter of Irish immigrants. Her father, Joseph Finnegan, was the youngest of 10 born in County Mayo, Ireland, on a 10-acre plot where potatoes were the dominant crop. He immigrated to Massachusetts and went from hauling buckets of coal to serving in the state Senate. Three of Mrs. Collins’s younger brothers followed their father into government: John Finnegan became a state representative and state auditor, David Finnegan was a School Committee president and a two-time mayoral candidate, and Joe Finnegan was a deputy commissioner in the state Mental Health Department and vice chancellor of the state Education Department’s board of regents.
As a de facto extra parent while growing up, and later as the family genealogist, Mrs. Collins “kind of held the family together as eldest sister, and in later years she was the glue, the matriarch of her Irish family, ” said her other daughter, Ann Starr of Belmont.