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Nurse laid to rest with help from her friends

By ANGELA MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000


BRANDON -- Flight suits and Hawaiian shirts, leis and funeral wreaths, eulogies and Joe Cocker songs, tears and laughter: All were on display at funeral services for Alicia Betita-Collins, the flight nurse killed in the crash of Bayflite 3.

The 4-foot, 11-inch ball of fire that Air Force Reserves colleagues knew as "Major ABC" was memorialized by friends, family and co-workers Tuesday night in a deeply personal but light-hearted service.

Friends said the woman who was always ready with "bawdy one-liners" would have wanted it that way.

"I'm glad to see everyone brightly dressed, uplifting, happy and smiling because she would have wanted it that way," said Mimi Rhoda, a close friend who took care of Betita-Collins' two children while the nurse served in the Persian Gulf War. "She would not have wanted to see us somber and crying."

As the pictures on a table outside the sanctuary attested, Betita-Collins was not a woman who tolerated sadness. They showed a woman radiant and beautiful at 51, with throngs of friends and a hearty sense of humor, a woman who would wear a bra and panties outside her flight suit or dress up as Supergirl and pose beside the St. Joseph's Hospital helicopter with a Superman colleague.

At the table, people sorted through pictures and laughed. "She was always doing stuff like that. She was such a card," or, of more official military pictures, "She taught me how to put up a pup tent."

Also on the table were pictures of a younger woman with flowers in her hair on the day of her wedding to Robert Collins, who died in 1986. There were pictures of her as a young mother in Hawaii with her son, Christopher, and daughter, Felicia, pictures of her as a young woman in Hawaiian dress with her two sisters.

"Everyone who touched her life admired her, loved her, adored her," said her sister Lita Hickey. "Alicia loved life and did not deserve to die this way."

Those who worked with her comforted themselves with the belief that Betita-Collins died doing what she loved to do.

"It's hard to imagine Alicia dying in bed," said her friend and colleague Mike Brown. "The lamp that burns brightest doesn't fade, but goes out suddenly."

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