Ralph Colby, son of a laborer from Quincy, Mass., moved to Minnesota as a young Congregational minister in the 1960s.
He went on to success as a business entrepreneur and nonprofit manager and returned to the ministry in his 60s.
Colby, who died last month at 85 of Lewy Body Dementia, was regarded by friends and family as a kind, thoughtful man with a twinkle in his eye.
He also was decisive and, arguably, feared no evil.
In 1992, Colby, then chief operating officer of Project for Pride in Living (PPL), a nonprofit training-and-housing business, decided to remove the low-income residents of a PPL apartment building shortly after several apartments had been broken into and occupied by drug-dealing gang members. They broke the hallway lights and threatened the legitimate tenants.
Colby and PPL’s security chief decided to move quickly. The tenants were relocated to alternative housing. Then, Colby launched a predawn raid on the squatting gang members.
“I both wanted to muzzle Ralph and give him a medal for going into that building,” recalled Thomas Rock, a Twin Cities businessman and lawyer who was a PPL board member at the time. “Ralph waited until early one morning, when he knew all the bad guys would be asleep. And he threw them out on the street. Ralph was fearless. I truly loved working with him.”
Colby, who oversaw hundreds of PPL apartment units, also broke tenant law that requires weeks of notification before eviction. He concluded that he made the right, difficult choice, which led to settlements later with some tenants.
“I was afraid that someone was going to get killed,” Colby said in a 1992 Star Tribune interview. “I recognize that we probably did break a law, but we felt the issue of public safety [of residents] was too great.”
Jeannette Colby of Minneapolis, one of Ralph Colby’s children, said: “He was direct and straightforward and could make a point. He understood structure and process. He also cared about people, their stories, their lives and their communities.”
Colby was remembered last month at a memorial service at Plymouth Church in Minneapolis for his warmth, listening skills and keen intellect. The son of a phone company worker from the blue-collar town of Quincy, Colby graduated from Northeastern University and Hartford Theological Seminary.
He and his family moved to the Midwest in the 1960s for a pastoral position that eventually led the Colbys to a Twin Cities congregation.
Colby left the ministry in the 1970s to start and build a corporate-training business, which he sold to Carlson Cos. at age 55. He worked for another business and for PPL before returning to the ministry in 1993.
Colby served churches as interim pastor in Boston and New York. He later was executive director of the nondenominational Interim Ministry Network.
A member of Plymouth Church since 1983, Colby served on several church-related committees and other nonprofit boards.
He is survived by his first wife, Lee, as well as his second wife of 44 years, Ruth; four children, two stepchildren and eight grandchildren.
Ruth and Ralph Colby “found joy in the way the two strands of their families were knit together into one fond and caring communion,” their children said in a prepared statement at the time of his death.