Robert James Collins, 78, who retired in 1982 as principal of Whetstone Elementary School in Gaithersburg, died Aug. 22 at his Leisure World home in Silver Spring. He had a heart ailment.

Dr. Collins was born in Salineville, Ohio. He was a graduate of Mount Union College in Ohio and received a master's degree in education from Peabody University and a doctorate in education from Georgetown University. He served in the Army in North Africa and Italy during World War II.

He began his career as a physical education teacher in Cleveland public schools in the early 1950s. He moved to the Washington area in 1961 to become principal of Rock Creek Palisades Elementary in Kensington. He later was principal of Westover Elementary and assistant director of instructional materials in the school system. He was appointed at Whetstone in the late 1970s.

He worked briefly after he retired as an agent with Dennis Kosineski Real Estate and then went into the antiques finishing and woodworking business. He was a wood shop monitor at Leisure World.

His interests also included golf.

His first wife, Grace Tolson Collins, died in the late 1940s and his second wife, Frances Stone Collins, died in 1980.

Survivors include his wife, Maxine Dunlop Collins of Leisure World; a son from his first marriage, James A. Collins of Rockville; three children from his second marriage, David T. Collins of Springfield, Nancy Collins of Germantown and William R. Collins of Rockville; a sister and a stepbrother.