Handy W. Coulbourn, a master carpenter, general contractor and mentor to scores of young men, died of heart failure New Year's Eve at his West Forest Park home. He was 78.
Born in Mardela Springs in Wicomico County, the ninth of 13 children, Mr. Coulbourn left home at 14 and began acquiring the carpentry skills that eventually earned him a reputation for quickly detecting problems and arriving at solutions.
With each repair job came what clients called "the lesson" -- a lengthy and painstaking explanation of what he was doing or a lecture on the origin of tools.
Allegra Bennett, a Baltimore journalist who wrote "Renovating Woman," a guide to home repair and maintenance published last year, described him in the book as "an accidental professor who could escort a simple question on a marvelous tangent that produces wonderfully useful stuff."
"Sometimes he would mumble, 'Guess I'm telling you more than you need to know,' " Ms. Bennett said.
"He came to my house one day when I complained about a leaky basement and the first thing he did was look up at the gutters and ask, 'Ever clean those gutters?' " she said.
"He put up a ladder to take a closer look and they were stuffed with leaves, bird nests and other debris. That's all there was to it. He cleaned them out and that was it and in the process saved me a lot of money and aggravation," Ms. Bennett said.
Friends recalled that Mr. Coulbourn loved words and each day would select a word from the dictionary to learn. He would responded to accolades by saying, "That's mighty perspicacious you."
Friends said he was patient and had a dry wit and courtly `D manner.
He was a mentor to young men, many of whom went on to successful careers as carpenters, electricians and plumbers.
Curtis Davis was Mr. Coulbourn's apprentice for several years before being sentenced to prison for drug dealing.
"I had earned my GED while in prison and had started taking college courses. When I got out I gave him a call. He promised to help me," Mr. Davis recalled.
"He took me back and was like a father figure to me. He was the most wonderful boss and teacher a man could have. He was a perfectionist who insisted that you not only know how to do a job but how to do it right," Mr. Davis said.
Mr. Coulbourn also did work for senior citizens on fixed incomes and allowed them to pay him when and what they could.
He would leave a job to drive an elderly customer to a doctor's appointment and lend money to people who had fallen on bad times, Mr. Davis said.
"He'd get off his sick bed to help someone. That's the kind of man he was," Mr. Davis said.
Mr. Coulbourn served in the Army in Europe from 1943 to 1946 and was discharged with the rank of private.
In 1944, he married Clara Thomas, who died in 1966. That year, he married Lorraine Wood, who died in 1977.
A memorial service will be held at noon tomorrow at Joseph Russ Funeral Home, 2222 W. North Ave.
Survivors include a son, Ronald Coulbourn of Baltimore; five sisters, Katherine Buckner of New York and Ruby White, Rosetta Davis, Lena Heatley and Rebecca Coulbourn, all of Salisbury; and two grandchildren.
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Pub Date: 1/09/98