Arts executive Rick Lester died of heart failure at Courage Classic bike ride

By: Jessica Allison
July 25, 2013 Updated: July 25, 2013 at 8:05 am
photo - William "Rick" Lester, right, and son-in-law Chris Wilkerson enjoy the moment at 2012's Courage Classic bike tour.
William "Rick" Lester, right, and son-in-law Chris Wilkerson enjoy the moment at 2012's Courage Classic bike tour. 

William "Rick" Lester was feeling good Saturday as he rode the first leg of the Courage Classic cycling tour near Vail.

But suddenly, the 61-year-old Woodland Park resident stopped his bike and fell to the ground. The CEO of consulting firm Target Research Group Arts died of heart failure, said Kara Bettis, Eagle County coroner.

"He commented routinely that he was having the best day of his life," said his son, Will. "He was feeling strong, so there was no indication that there was anything wrong. He was posting pictures on Facebook all day of how much fun he was having and how fantastic he felt."

It was the elder Lester's fifth Courage Classic, a three-day, 157-mile cycling tour benefitting Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora.

Lester, who went by Rick, rode in honor of his grandson Noah Wilkerson, who died from a metabolic disease only four days after his birth in 2009.

His grandson's "only fault in life was his unfortunate choice of grandfathers," wrote Lester, who is survived by his wife, Sandra, and two children, Will and Sarah.

Lester rode with a group of cyclists called "The Gene Team," which raises money to fund better genetic testing. On his own, Lester raised more than $11,000, surpassing his original goal of $10,000. Since Lester's death, donations to him have grown to $13,304.

Founded in 1995, Lester's arts consulting company now services more than 1,200 nonprofit companies in the art industry. It employs more than 30 people.

A member of his high school band, Lester had an impressive career in the arts, with tenures at the Cleveland Orchestra, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra of North Carolina, Cincinnati Symphony and other orchestras. He was also a guest lecturer at several universities, including in the arts management program at the Yale School of Drama.

Still, his son said that the word to describe his father was "fun."

"He was an energetic guy who was passionate about living life," Will Lester said. "He loved to enjoy what this world offers and aggressively chased those things he was passionate about."

Among the things he was most passionate about was his family.

"Family was the heart and soul of everything Rick Lester did, so he created family wherever he was - at home, at work, in conferences, in the classroom," wrote Laura Willumsen, TRG's managing senior consultant, on the company's tribute Web page to Lester.

"He loved his family dearly," Will said. "He was the glue that held us together."

Lester's funeral service, which is open to the public, begins at 10 a.m. Monday at First Congregational Church, 20 E. St. Vrain St.

The family asks those wishing to honor his memory contribute to his Courage Classic donation page in lieu of flowers.

"It's not ever going to be the same, but we're not going to let his death diminish who we are," Will Lester said. "We're trying to honor him as best we can by continuing to be a strong family in his absence."

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