Dr. Colbourn was born in Armidale, New South Wales, on February 24, 1927, the son of Arthur Colbourn and Ella Mary Henderson. He graduated from the University of London, Exeter and earned his Masters from the College of William and Mary and a second Masters and his PhD from Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Colbourn's academic career included teaching positions at Penn State University and Indiana University Bloomington, and serving as the Dean of the Graduate School at the University of New Hampshire, and as academic vice president and then acting president of San Diego State University. From 1978-1989 he was the President of the University of Central Florida.
Dr. Colbourn was a tweed jacketed scholar and academic first, and a university administrator second. Through most of his university presidency he continued to teach one course on American revolutionary history each year. He published several books in this field, relishing philosophical discussions of the beliefs of the founding fathers. He deeply enjoyed the lasting relationships he developed with his students.
Dr. Colbourn was also an accomplished administrator with long term vision. He is well known as the person who established the football program at UCF, seeing in the rain and mud of the first game in hand me down high school uniforms the potential that became a top 10 ranked team in 2013. But Dr. Colbourn was equally committed to the academic side of the university, starting the Honors College and and creating both UCF's first endowed chair, and the first endowed chair in the southeastern United States in computer science. He was instrumental in developing the research park and increased research funding from $3.8 million to $16.4 million annually. He also increased the assets of the UCF Foundation from less than a million to more than $11 million. He was inducted into the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame and UCF's Humanities and Fine Arts Building was renamed Colbourn Hall in his honor.
Dr. Colbourn loved music, the ocean, and grudge matches of cribbage with his younger daughter. For years tolerant neighbors marked Sunday afternoons by the swell of opera music blaring from his large custom speakers.
Dr. Colbourn is survived by his wife and partner of 66 years, nee Beryl Richards Evans, and their two daughters, Katherine Colbourn Wrye and Elinor Colbourn, as well as his four grandchildren, Maxwell Trevor Wrye, and Gwen, Morgan and Evan Sletten.
A memorial service will be held at 2:30 pm on Monday, February 2, at All Saints Episcopal Church located at 338 East Lyman Avenue in Winter Park. In lieu of flowers, those interested can make a memorial donation to the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, the College of William and Mary, or the University of Central Florida Foundation.