Coleby Curnow-Phelps’ life may have been cut tragically short, but he made full use of his 26 years.
Curnow-Phelps died on July 31, in a collision between the motorcycle he was riding and a car turning onto Highway 97 north of Osoyoos.
His father, Roland Curnow, said Coleby’s zest for life was apparent at a young age, at the family business, Sunflight Para-sailing in Osoyoos.
“He immediately started meeting people and figuring out business things when he was tiny, when he was about three or four,” said Curnow, who also used to take him to the airport to watch planes fly.
Curnow took his young son along with him one day when he was working at the airport.
“I was out doing my work and he wandered off into the hanger and met a pilot,” said Curnow. “The next thing he is in the helicopter, getting shown around all the buttons and dials and he told the pilot, ‘I am going to be flying one of these one day.’ and he did.”
Aviation became a passion for Coleby, who joined the 259 Penticton Panther Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron when he was 11, learning to fly gliders. By age 16, Curnow said, Coleby got his fixed wing licence, and two years later, at age 18 took training and became a fully-qualified commercial helicopter pilot.
That determination was typical of Coleby, according to Curnow.
“He was active in BMX, he did that for a few years. He just jumped into whatever he felt like, he would just do it,” said Curnow. “I would like to do this, I would like to do that. Pretty amazing.”
Coleby was also a people person. Curnow describes his son as kind and generous, always polite to people.
“We had our business at the beach and he was always really good with people, striking up a good conversation with them anytime,” said Curnow. “People were shocked that he was only 26, because if you talked to him, you would think he was in his mid-30s. He was so mature and so down to earth.”
Coleby’s work took him into northern B.C., first as a helicopter pilot and then into pipeline work with friends before starting his own contracting company.
“They just did a job for the regional district and all kinds of stuff on the go,” said Curnow. Coleby was satisfied to have just one iron in the fire, though. He was also partnering to
develop a company using drones as a surveying tool, filming from the air, then converting to measurements.
“They were just in the process of getting that off the ground,” said Curnow. It was in the north that Coleby met his soulmate, Magi Ross.
“He met the love of his life while he was up north, she was a medic on the job and I really believed they were going to have a happy dream life together,” said Curnow.
Coleby was also active with the Penticton Harlequins Rugby Club, which helped organize a celebration of his life at McNicoll oval Saturday afternoon.
“Coleby was basically raised at the clubhouse and played in high school and some men’s,” said coach Ken Simpson, adding that Coleby had focused more on refereeing after earning his helicopter pilot’s licence.
Curnow, who is one of the founders of the rugby club, said refereeing runs in the family.
“His grandfather was probably the top referee in Canada at one point,” said Curnow. Jan Curnow who reffed at the international level, was inducted into the Rugby Hall of Fame in 2005.
“Coleby, he is one of only three qualified refs in the South Okanagan,” said Curnow, adding that his son reffed at the Harlequin’s Sunfest tournament in June.
“Whenever he comes to town, he always stops in the clubhouse and looks to see what volunteer work he can do. That’s something you don’t see often now. Not too many people are that way,” said Simpson.
Curnow said that helpfulness is one of the main things he wants people to remember about his son.
“He was always cheerful, always nice to people,” said Curnow, adding that Coleby helped out at the club from a young age.
“If they needed anything, he would just jump right in.”