by Christy Heitger-Ewing | photos by Adam Gibson & Jamie Sangar

When a legendary, vibrant personality is suddenly silenced, the world feels a striking, somber shift. Such was the case on December 17, 2020, when Rob Delaby, founder of Oasis Outdoor Living & Landscapes, lost his life in a fire while on a hunting trip with his devoted dog Buck. When news broke of the tragedy, scores of condolences poured in from friends, family, colleagues, and clients.

David Decker, President of ACo, recalls how he and Delaby became instant friends the moment they met. “Rob – ‘the Mayor’ as we called him, was loved by so many. It was truly a gift to be one of his good friends,” says Decker. “His constant smile made it easy for him to be loved by all. He knew no strangers.”

Scott Bates, co-owner of Christopher Scott Homes, agrees that Delaby lit up a room whenever he stepped into it.

“I know a lot of people say that, but this is 100% the truth with Rob because if you met him for five minutes, you felt like you were his close friend,” says Bates. “His great work ethic, paired with his personality, is what made him a fantastic salesperson and company leader.”

The first time Rob Mulligan and his wife Tricia met Delaby, they all got a kick out of the fact that the two couples shared the same first names.

“He didn’t talk about himself, though. He started telling us about Tricia, or ‘Bird’ as he called her, and how wonderful she is and how we should meet her,” says Mulligan. “And he talked about his kids. His love for his family was so endearing.”

That love of family was displayed in the way he did business. As part of the Mulligans’ landscape design plan, Delaby and the Oasis Outdoor team were installing a swimming pool in the backyard. The scheduled move-in date to their new home was set for July 11 – the same week the Mulligans’ daughter turned 14 and she was hoping to celebrate her day with a pool party. When Delaby heard of the plan, he promised to have the pool ready for the big day. Everything was lining up until a few windy days set them back. With dust and debris blown into the pool, it needed a lot of work to get it ready. Then like Santa Claus, a few days before the shindig, Delaby and a team member from Oasis Outdoor showed up unannounced to get to work.

“Rob is personally hosing down the filters, skimming the pool, and working for several hours on what was a blazing hot day,” recalls Mulligan. “I can still remember him standing waist high in our pool with a vacuum in one hand and his phone in the other hand, calling people to cancel his meetings that afternoon, telling them, ‘The Mulligans have a birthday party on Saturday, and I need to get their pool ready!’ It was an extraordinary act of kindness and generosity on Rob’s part. This tells you what an enormous heart Rob had. He was one of a kind.”

Time and again, Molly Smith, Marketing and Business Development with Oasis Outdoor, witnessed Delaby’s character shine through. For instance, when a new client approached them with a project and talked about a bad experience they had the previous year with a competitor, Delaby didn’t capitalize on the mishap but rather responded, “I’m good friends with XYZ [the competitor]. I’ll call them, and they’ll take care of you. I’m sure it was a miscommunication, those guys are great.”

Another time a customer on Geist questioned how Delaby would possibly get materials delivered to their space due to the tricky topography. Delaby didn’t bat an eye. He simply stated, “No problem, we’ll just get a barge!”

“He was all about providing solutions,” says Smith.

Delaby looked for solutions in all avenues of life – not just his business. That’s why he was so dedicated to supporting causes close to his heart. For instance, in 2015 Delaby was named Pink Tie Guy of the Year after raising more than $20,000 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. He got involved when his friend and colleague Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer. He had several people in his life who were affected by cancer and he wanted to do something to help. Delaby spoke through his actions, he did not just say he wanted to help, he always followed through, said Smith. He also lent his support to Twisted Pink, whose mission is to provide hope and connection for people living with metastatic breast cancer by funding bold breakthroughs in research and awareness of the disease.

“He was eager to learn as much as he could about a disease that’s very misunderstood,” says Caroline Johnson, Founder and Executive Director of Twisted Pink. “Rob was one of those rare individuals who wanted to help for the right reasons. He always had other people’s health and well-being at the heart of his charitable contributions and service.”

In 2018, Oasis Outdoor sponsored the Haven Home Cover Party; Delaby used the opportunity to fundraise for Twisted Pink and for another dear friend battling cancer, Jennifer Alderman.

“Everyone at the party knew Rob and loved him. They were there to support his business which was clearly thriving because of the person he was, his talents, and his ability to connect people,” says Johnson, noting that Delaby donated a rare bottle of bourbon to raffle off at the event, which raised more than $25,000 for the organization, a large portion of that was from a check he wrote personally. “I remember him having the best time and bringing so much energy to the room at our gala event, which he attended every year. He was so giving to others.”

To help carry on Delaby’s legacy, Twisted Pink is starting a scholarship designed to help people living with metastatic breast cancer connect to others and become better advocates. The inaugural Robert L. Delaby Legacy Scholarship Award will send one person annually to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting in Chicago, Illinois. To learn more about how to nominate an individual for the award, visit Nomination letters are due by April 1.

“Anyone who had the pleasure of meeting Rob knew he brought life to the party, and how he lived his life made you want to get to know him better,” says Johnson.

Radio Personality at Q95 Kristi Lee was good friends with Delaby and spent a great deal of time playing in charity golf outings together.

“Even though we were having fun, he never stopped answering calls and handling business questions,” says Lee. “Not to mention after at the silent auctions, he would give and give and give. His heart was enormous!”

One time at St. Elizabeth Seton’s annual Mardi Gras party, Lee had donated a John Mellencamp signed guitar.

“Even though he and Tricia were just starting their careers, he insisted on bidding up and purchasing that guitar because the money went to charity,” says Lee. “It was just one of many times Rob stepped up and gave money to those in need.”

Twice Oasis Outdoor sponsored racecar driver Pippa Mann for the Indy 500, and proceeds benefitted Donate for Life Indiana, who was Pippa’s win sponsor. When Mann met Delaby, she was touched by the way he opened his heart to everyone, championed the underdogs, and believed everyone deserved a chance. Then at the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, he did something else that blew her away.

“I auctioned off my race-worn helmet to raise money for charity. Rob purchased it … so he could give it back to me,” says Mann. “It’s my only race-worn Indy 500 helmet I’ve ever been able to own. It was a gift I’ll never forget.”

“He was the most generous person I’ve ever known, and his impact on our world is evident by all of the people he has helped over the years and those affected by his death,” says Decker. “He brought people together and made the world a better place.”

It was Delaby who convinced his friend Clark Cutshaw, Director of Builder & Showroom Business at Ferguson Enterprises, to support the Pippa Mann Donate Life Car.

“I was out to dinner with Rob and three other guys and Rob started telling us about the impact cancer had had on his life,” recalls Cutshaw. “He had big tears running down his face as he shared his passion for supporting this cause. Seeing how emotional he got is what solidified my support of this cause.”

According to Cutshaw, Rob went full-tilt when he got into something.

“He was never halfway in – kind of like being his friend, because nobody was ‘kind of ’ friends with Rob,” says Cutshaw. “Once you were his buddy, he was always texting you, wanting to hang out. You were all in. And every second was amazing.”

Delaby’s wife of 24 years, Tricia, has taken the company’s helm, continuing his strategic vision and utilizing the same loyal and skilled team Delaby had assembled.

“Our primary goal is to continue providing the highest quality of craftsmanship and customer satisfaction, while always looking out for the best interest of our customers,” says Smith. “This has been the driving force for which we are known, and the hallmark of our success.”

Tricia, a strategic partner in the company since its inception knows the business in and out, and is stepping into this role with a promise that the company will continue their same way of doing business moving forward. Clients can be assured that Oasis Outdoor will continue with the foundation that Delaby laid.

“Rob never wanted to build the standard project that any company could do,” says Smith. “He wanted to build a relationship with the customer, find solutions for them and design and build a project ideal for their family. [He liked] giving the customer a little something different.”

And that is what the company is committed to moving forward, using their expertise and established vision to make the best possible outcome for the customer.

That was how he lived his life – with joy, verve, and goodness.

Cutshaw calls Delaby’s larger-than-life personality “infectious and addictive.”

“You met him one time and you wanted more because any time you could get was well worth it,” says Cutshaw. “You always laughed, always smiled, and always felt loved.”

Alan Drane, Director of Landscape Sales at Stone Center of Indiana, met Delaby about 15 years ago when the two started doing business together. Drane explained how Delaby connected with people simply by being himself.

“Rob always controlled the pace and the focus of meetings, yet his customers always left fully satisfied that they were heard, and their needs were being met, ” said Drane. “He was one of the greatest communicators I have ever known.”

Drane continued by explaining Delaby’s hardy laugh, youthful exuberance, slightly rebellious nature, love of his friends and family, caring nature, and his dedication to what he believed in were the qualities he admired most.

“And the occasional ‘I love you man’ which was heartfelt,” remarked Drane. “As a rule, most of us are not great at that … Rob was a master of it.”

Rob Delaby’s friends and colleagues remember his Customer Connections

“Rob wanted to build a relationship with the customer, find solutions for them and design and build a project ideal for their family. [He liked] giving the customer a little something different.”– Molly Smith, Marketing and Business Development, Oasis Outdoor Living & Landscapes

“Rob always controlled the pace and the focus of meetings, yet his customers always left fully satisfied that they were heard, and their needs were being met. He was one of the greatest communicators I have ever known.”– Alan Drane Director of Landscape Sales, Stone Center of Indiana

Rob Delaby Memorial Golf Outing

A memorial golf outing is being planned for the summer of 2021. Sign up below to stay informed about the upcoming details.