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Former Annapolis housing authority director, star high school athlete dies at age 64

Former Annapolis mayor Mike Pantelides and then-Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis executive director Melvin Colbert talk briefly before city inspections began in June 2016. Colbert, an Annapolis native who served as executive director for six months, died June 18 at age 64.
Former Annapolis mayor Mike Pantelides and then-Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis executive director Melvin Colbert talk briefly before city inspections began in June 2016. Colbert, an Annapolis native who served as executive director for six months, died June 18 at age 64. (Chase Cook / Capital Gazette)

Melvin Colbert, an Annapolis native, standout high school athlete and former executive director of the city’s housing authority, died June 18 at the age of 64 of unknown causes.

Colbert led the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis from February to August 2016 during a tumultuous time at the independent public housing agency that manages roughly 700 units in the city.

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The authority had been recovering from financial troubles while dealing with violence, new housing inspections and an audit from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Colbert was hired after a raft of resignations and replaced a director who didn’t show up for her first day on the job.

Despite the turbulence during Colbert’s tenure, he was praised by the City Council, former Mayor Mike Pantelides and members of the housing authority’s Board of Directors for his conduct.

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“He was a people person. He tried to help people as much as he could and he did make a difference,” said Board Chair Jackie Wells, who was a Board member at the time.

Colbert was instrumental in helping the housing authority get back to even footing, said Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell-Charles, D-Ward 3, who met Colbert in college at Morgan State University. Colbert left the agency in August 2016 just under seven months after he started. It was never made public why he left.

He was one of only a few people whom she never heard anyone criticize, Pindell-Charles said.

“Melvin was one of those people that everybody liked. He was very bright and very efficient,” she said. “I can truly say of all the people I’ve ever known in my life, Mayor John Chambers and Melvin Colbert are the only two people that I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about.”

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Colbert had previously worked at the housing authority in resident services. He also worked for Pennrose Management as a support services coordinator before and after his time as executive director.

In that role, he developed programs for residents at the Obery Court and College Creek communities such as budget counseling, afterschool programs, health and wellness sessions that were meant to further their life goals, said Ivy Dench-Carter, vice president of development with Pennrose.

When he returned to the company after his time with the housing authority, he set up similar programs in Baltimore and Prince George’s County.

“He’s just one of those guys that really cared about the residents,” Dench-Carter said. “He was just a wonderful person. Our residents loved him.”

Melvin Colbert, Jr. was born March 30, 1957, in Annapolis to Melvin, Sr. and Betty E. Colbert.

He was the eldest of five sons, according to his obituary.

He is survived by his wife Harriet Teresa Corbett-Colbert, their two adult children, Melvin A. Colbert (Teraka) of Houston, and Maya T. Colbert of Fort Washington; three grandchildren, Melvin Alexander, Desmond Howard, and Tayonna Ivory; and brothers Mark (Nora) of Annapolis, Maurice (Robin) of Clayton, North Carolina, Michael (Clara) of Bowie, and Marvin (Valencia) of Baltimore.

Colbert grew up in Annapolis with a close-knit group of friends, including Annapolis historian Janice Hayes-Williams, who recalled walking with Colbert to Annapolis Elementary School. The pair became so close she considers him a family member a half-century later.

After school, they stopped by a candy shop owned by a friend’s father and would then sneak into the Anne Arundel County Circuit courthouse to run around as a prank, fueled by the sweet snacks.

“We’d get sugared up and run through the courthouse with the sheriffs running after us out the door to Charles Street,” Hayes-Williams said. “That was the pinnacle of excitement.”

In the mid-1970s, Colbert starred on the Annapolis High School football team. As a senior, he also played varsity basketball.

Colbert, a big man even as a teen, played offensive line before he was moved to fullback by legendary Annapolis coach Al Laramore, said Eric Pickett, a childhood friend of Colbert’s who also played football.

In 1975, he was selected as one of the top high school football players in Maryland and received a full athletic scholarship to Morgan State University, according to his obituary.

“Melvin ran up the middle and mashed those linebackers, Pickett said. “He was a tremendous athlete.”

Aside from sports, he also loved jazz, and literary and visual arts, from Gwendolyn Brooks to Monet to Romare Bearden, according to his obituary.

After college, he joined the Community Action Agency as a housing counselor before moving on to the housing authority and Pennrose.

In 2016, Colbert helped found Street Corner Ministries Coalition, an initiative that pairs a local church with an Annapolis community. He started the venture with Pindell-Charles, Annapolis Rec and Parks Director Archie Trader, and Sharon McKinney Mackell, from First Christian Community Church.

The group found churches to “adopt” nearby neighborhoods, Pindell-Charles said, so that during times of need, like after a tragedy or during the holidays, there would be a network of assistance. As of 2019 there were eight churches paired with neighborhoods like Admiral Oaks and Annapolis Gardens, Bay Ridge Gardens, Robinwood and more.

A funeral service will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church on 31 West Washington St. A viewing will begin at 9 a.m., followed by a wake at 10 a.m. and funeral at 11 a.m. He will be interred at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens.

The funeral may be live-streamed via Zoom: conference ID # 847-4407-4698 or audio only call in at 301-715-8592; mtg. ID: 847-4407-4698#

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