Richard Allen Colbert - Spicer-Mullikin Funeral Homes & Crematory

Richard Allen Colbert

Born July 3, 1956

Richard Allen Colbert, age 58, of Newark, DE, passed away at home on November 29, 2014. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April of 2012.

A native Delawarean, Rick was born in Wilmington and was a 1974 graduate of Newark High School. He attended the University of Delaware, graduating in 1978 with a BS degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in plant science and ornamental horticulture. He graduated with Honors and Distinction. He returned to the University of Delaware to study business and graduated with an MBA in 1986.

Rick was committed to the field of public horticulture and enjoyed sharing his knowledge of plants. In 1978, Rick became the first horticulturist for the City of Newark before becoming the Supervisor of Parks. He developed and implemented a program to beautify the traffic islands throughout Newark using low maintenance plants. During this time, he wrote articles that were nationally published and received local and national awards for his innovative ideas.

In 1991, Rick became the executive director of Tyler Arboretum in Media, PA. During his 23 year tenure at Tyler, he played an instrumental role in transforming the arboretum to become a regional, family-oriented destination. Tyler experienced significant growth and improvements under Rick’s leadership, including expanding the educational outreach, increasing the community programs available, and restoring, upgrading and maintaining plant collections.

Rick received honors and awards for his contributions to the field of horticulture. He was honored with the 1988 Award of Merit from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Distinguished Alumni Award in 2008, and the American Public Gardens Association Service Award in 2012. Throughout his career, Rick served on multiple professional committees and was a guest speaker across the country. He recently served on the Longwood Graduate Program Executive Committee and the Scott Medal and Award committee. He was the treasurer for the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta from 2002 to 2006 and was involved in the Philadelphia Flower Show.

Rick shared his love of woodworking with his family and friends. Many have been recipients of handmade items, including the famous Rick Rack. He passed along his joy of gardening and interest in plants to his children and grandchildren. Rick enjoyed playing golf and tennis. He ventured abroad to Ecuador, France, England and Italy. He always dreamed of playing golf and visiting gardens in Scotland. In July, his brother, Tab, fulfilled his dream. Most of all, Rick enjoyed his time at the beach with his supportive wife, Cathy.

Rick was dedicated to his family and his faith. He was always surrounded by a loving family that he cared for deeply. He was very proud of his family and enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren.

Rick is survived by his wife of 36 years, Catherine (Horney) Colbert; daughters, Erin Challburg (Joseph) and Kimberly Brady (John); siblings, Debi Thomas (Jeff), Tab Colbert (Beth) and Sharon Whetham (Kevin); granddaughters, Gwenevere and Avery Challburg, Bridget, Jonalynn and Rayanne Brady; father, Ralph Colbert; mother-in-law, Patricia Horney; and a large extended family. Rick was preceded in death by his mother, Patricia Colbert and father-in-law Bill Horney.

A visitation for family and friends will be held from 2 pm until 4 pm on Sunday afternoon, December 7, 2014 at the Spicer-Mullikin Funeral Home, 121 W. Park Place, Newark, DE 19711. A memorial service will be held at 11 am on Monday morning, December 8, 2014, at the First Presbyterian Church of Newark, 292 W. Main Street, Newark, DE. Interment will be private.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Tyler Arboretum, 515 Painter Road, Media, PA 19063 or to the First Presbyterian Church of Newark at the address listed above.


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46 Condolences for Richard Allen Colbert

  • Rick was a classmate of mine at Newark High School. All of us in the NHS 74 family were sadden to hear this news. Our thoughts and prayers are with Rick, Cathrine and the entire Colbert family.

  • Our arboretum has lost a great man. I will always remember Rick’s strong leadership, enthusiasm and warm smile. He will be sorely missed, but everywhere one can see proof of his great legacy. Rest in peace Rick. You live on in this beautiful place eternally.

  • Kim and Erin (& family), I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your dad. From what you both have told me of him, he was a phenomenal man who loved every moment of life and was a trooper throughout the treatments with a true spirit. One of the special gifts he left will be found in your children as they give that certain look, walk or phrase that could only be your dad. The second special gift is his voice. Through the read me a story books that he left for each of the grandchildren, it is truly something that will hopefully bring comfort to you and the children. Your dad is watching you from heaven and know that when you feel a soft breeze, it is your dad kissing your cheek. When you look around and find a penny, he is wanting a “penny for your thoughts”. My sympathies and prayers are with you both through this trying time. He is at peace without pain now, though young, he would not have wanted this to continue for years to come. – Brenda (& family)

  • I pray that you all will find peace. Rick was always so gentle and kind every time we saw him. I know how much his family loved him and I know he will be missed. As time goes on, I hope the memories of times together will bring you comfort. God Bless all of you. Sue and Gordon

  • I feel truly blessed and thankful to have worked for Rick, though I am sad that our time working together was short. His unfailing optimism, warmth, and dedication will never be forgotten as we all look around Tyler Arboretum and see the beautiful fruits of his efforts. He inspired us all to keep moving forward, and I will take that lesson with me in life. I pray for your family’s peace and comfort–know that we are all here for you if you ever need anything! –Laura

  • Heaven gained a Master Gardener and I know God welcomed him home. Rick showed his love of his family in all he did- and that extended to Tom and I.
    I will Always be grateful for his great love and fathering of Joe and family. Our love and prayers to all.

  • Our deepest sympathies to your family.

  • Rick was one of the nicest colleagues in the public garden world that I have ever met. His calm, fun personality made the time spent with him always enjoyable. He was such a truly good man through and through. He did so much for the American Public Garden Association and his accomplishments at the Tyler Arboretum were amazing. I’ll miss him and continue to think of him as a great role model.
    – Kris

  • I will always remember Rick. He was very kind and supportive to me when I was enduring some tough times while in the Longwood Graduate Program. He didn’t coddle me, but encouraged me to carry on and be my best…kind of like an uncle. I am fortunate to have known him.

  • I worked for Rick on the traffic islands in Newark. What a wonderful man and feel very blessed and thankful to have worked with him. His enthusiasm and knowledge was contagious and I am lucky we crossed paths so many years ago. I will keep his family in my prayers.

  • I was a fellow classmate of Rick’s. 1974. I was so sorry to hear of Rick’s passing. My thought’s and prayers are with you Cathy and your family.

  • Our profession and world have lost a wonderful person too soon. Rick always made me feel welcome when I was able to visit Tyler Arboretum, and he always greeted me warmly at AABGA meetings. To his family, friends and co-workers please accept my heart-felt expression of sympathy.

  • Our home is surrounded by Rick with the plants he gave to us. Each is special to us as was Rick. We will miss you but will always smile at your love of family, friends and plants.

  • I have a picture taken when Ricky was a baby. He was sitting on Patsy ‘ s lap. My mind can’t comprehend that he has lived his life and his mortality is over. He left the world a better place. I am so sorry that his life was short but am glad to read of his faith. There lies hope.

  • Dear Colbert Family, I’m saddened by your loss of your loved one Rick. Many years ago I noticed a positive change in the beautifucation of Newark’s many outdoor spaces and was delighted to learn that they were created by Rick Colbert, son of my NHS classmates and friends, Pat and Ralph. May your spirits be comforted and lifted by your wonderful memories of Rick.

  • Rick was a colleague of mine for twenty years. He was always jolly,kind and thoughtful. He had a quiet strength and was, that best of things, a gentle man.
    To his family – I am so sorry for your loss.
    Chris Woods

  • Ralph and Family

    We were saddened to read of the passing of Rick. Although it’s been years we still remember your family with fondness. Our condolences to all.

  • I have such fond memories of Rick from our time at Christiana Presbyterian Church’s youth group. I am so very sorry for your loss and will be keeping all of you in my prayers.

  • I worked for Rick as Tyler’s development director from 1991 to 1995. He truly transformed Tyler Arboretum, professionalizing the staff and improving every aspect of the organization. Rick was an inspiring leader and a thoroughly good person. I will miss him greatly. My thoughts and prayers are with Rick’s dearly-loved wife, Cathy; their daughters, Erin and Kim (just young girls when I knew them!); the grandchildren whose pictures he so proudly showed my husband, Jim, and me when we visited him in November 2012; and all other members of the family he treasured. May many happy memories help to sustain you now.
    Judy Perego-Williams

  • The Longwood Graduate Fellows, classes of ’14 and ’15 got the chance to work with Rick last summer on a months-long project that benefited Tyler Arboretum and helped us students learn. Working with and getting to know Rick was one of the highlights of the project. He was patient and kind. Though he was soft-spoken, his love for Tyler and determination to honor the Arboretum by making the best choices for the organization and the people who work for it came through loudly. Rick was also on the committee that selects the students who get the privilege of being in the Longwood Graduate Program, so we all owe our careers, in part, to him.

    That wonderful spirit will be missed.

  • In 1991 Rick embraced the novel idea, extended by the Delaware County Road Runners Club, of a 10K trail race in the Arboretum, and the race has been an annual must-run ever since. With a strict limit on the number of runners, it offers an exclusive, early-spring view of the beautiful grounds and attracts many to come back when things are in full bloom. It is just one example of his innovative approach to public garden management. Those of us who organize the race each year will miss his smiling presence and hearty starting line greeting to the crowd.

  • I am deeply saddened to hear about Rick’s passing. I have fond memories of Rick in high school; we both enjoyed tennis and that was our common bond. More recently, I used to run in to him and chat every now and then at the ACME in Suburban Plaza. My sympathies to you, Cathy, and the family. Rick will be missed by many.

  • I didn’t know Rick personally but am also a graduate of NHS ’74. Prayers go out to the entire family.

  • My sincere condolences to the Colbert and Horney Families.

  • Debbie and Jeff and Family,
    I am so sorry to hear of Rick’s passing. Please tell your family and his that you are all in our thoughts and prayers now and for a long time forward. Take care.

    Audrey Murphy Burt and Family

  • What an impact Rick has made in the world! His passing has occurred far, far to early. We are so sorry for your loss. Rick was a good man. Heaven will be a better place with his presence.

  • Cathy and family,
    I have so many wonderful memories of our days in Nottingham Green. Life was so good. Rick always did the right thing and had good character – even in elementary and middle school. Sending prayers and love.

  • My deep condolences to the Colbert family.
    I was special events and volunteer coordinator at Tyler from 1995-97, (back when Pumpkin Day was only a one-day affair). The contributions Rick made to the arboretum and the public horticulture field are considerable, but I am most thankful for his infectious love of plants, which set me on the path to becoming both an avid gardener and a 10-year member of Media Borough’s Shade Tree Commission. Rest in peace, Rick.

  • I met Rick in 1980 when I was a senior at the University of Delaware as a Plant Science major. I responded to an add in the newspaper for a gardener position for the City of Newark. Rick gave me my first job in horticulture & inspired me to “work hard and you will suceed”. Rick also gave me my first design commission as a fledgling Landscape Designer to create a garden at the Newark Triangle by McDonalds! I was so enthusiastic about my horticulture career prospects thanks to Rick.

    30 years later Rick again gave me the incredible opportunity to serve on the Board of Trustees at Tyler Arboretum. Wow, how can I ever repay my gratitude to this generous and thoughtful man?

    Cathy, Erin & Kim, please know that I will continue to carry the torch for Rick at Tyler and his legacy will last eternally in this world we share.
    Rest in Peace Rick Colbert, we love you.

  • Cathy and family, I am incredibly sad to hear of your loss. Rick was one of the finest individuals I have ever known. He was incredibly intelligent, compassionate, dedicated, a true leader and a witty, droll guy. I truly thought that, if anyone could have beaten that cancer, it was Rick. The world is a smaller, sadder place because of his passing. May your memories and faith sustain you through this difficult time. Rest in God’s peace, Rick.

  • I am so very sorry to hear about Rick’s passing. I worked at the Arboretum part time while in school at UD in 2000-20001. He was such a great person and always willing to help with such a positive attitude. He has done such a fantastic job with the Arboretum and he will be sorely missed. My thoughts are with his family and all of those who worked with him at the Arboretum.

  • I just finished reading Rick’s obituary. What a marvelous tribute to his very accomplished life. My personal connection was having had the joy of knowing his daughters who were students of mine at Newark High School. He helped raise two wonderful girls. My thoughts are with the family at this time.

    Paula Henderson

  • My deepest sympathy to the Colbert family. Rick was a dear friend and my mentor for many, many years. Thanks to him and the incredible experience I had at Tyler, I was able to secure a position at a non profit in my home state, leaving Tyler about 15 years ago. I’ve returned fairly often and always to see a Tyler more vibrant than the visit before. Both will have a special place in my heart forever. He will be sorely missed!!

  • My deepest sympathies to the Colbert family. I only met Rick recently (as a Tyler Arboretum volunteer) but his achievements at Tyler are well know to me and so many others. He will be remembered as a leader, an innovator and a very special person at Tyler.

  • Rick was truly a gentle giant. He was way ahead of the pack when it came to public horticulture and city beautification. His median plantings in Newark, DE, have stuck with me through all these years. My sympathy to his immediate family and friends at large.

  • Sincere condolences to all members of the Colbert family. Your sadness will be wrapped up with wonderful memories that were all great. However, your mom has gained another angel and they sit with God, watching over all of you. Wishing you strength and sending prayers your way.
    Marty Burke

  • I was saddened to learn of Rick’s passing. We met through tennis and were teammates on a USTA team. He was a good competitor and player, and a pleasure to be around.
    My thoughts and prayers are with the family.

  • We have been praying for Rick, and the family since the diagnosis. So sad to hear of his passing. We will keep Rick and the family in our prayers and thoughts.

  • It was a privilege to have been part of Tyler Arboretum’s board under Rick’s dedicated leadership. He was an inspirational person who will be missed. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you.

  • Cathy – I hope you will remember me – we worked together many years ago as nurses. I have thought about you and Rick many times over the years when I would drive through Newark. I would remember when he created the first beautiful areas there in the traffic islands and often told others about this. It sounds like he had continued to have much success in his career. You are in my thoughts and prayers, I know you will miss him very much.

  • It was a privilege to have had an opportunity to work with and for Rick with my UD students. He inspired us and made our work at Tyler so easy and fun. He always told us stories of his family so I have all of you in my thoughts.

  • I had the pleasure of working with Rick during his time as a horticulturist and as Parks Superintendent for the City of Newark. He was as knowledgeable about plant material as anyone I had ever worked with. He brought an incredible energy to the workplace everyday and it permeated throughout his crew. Rick was largely responsible for establishing Newark’s very successful and award winning Traffic Island Beautification program. That program lives on today. Rick was a friend and very respected colleague. Cathy, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  • Cathy and Girls,
    So very sorry to hear of the passing of Rick. Please know you are in our prayers.

  • Kathy and family….

    We’re thinking of you and hope that the love of friends and family help you through the days ahead!

    Leilani & Pat Walker

  • I did not have the pleasure of knowing Richard very long, but, when we would see each other it was as if we have known one another for years. He had such a warm heart and he was so nice to talk to. This photo above is one of the last photo’s I took of Richard. I can see from what I read he was a special guy . I am definitely going to miss his smile when I go in Tyler.

  • I was deeply saddened to learn of Rick’s passing. We first met while I was a Longwood Fellow attending the University of Delaware where he agreed to serve as mentor/supervisor for a “special project” we proposed that would measure the relative temperature hardiness tolerances of English Ivy cultivars grown on those City of Newark street medians he so loved. I will always remember his good nature, keen wit, and always, always, his approachability and willingness to help. Later in my career, I enjoyed his collegial nature when we met at various AABGA affairs, and appreciated his friendship, good advice and council.
    I offer my deepest sympathies to his family and friends, as well as to his colleagues that have had the good fortune, as I did, to have made his acquaintance. May he rest in peace.