Saturday, January 5, 2013

Remembering a Friend: Dr. Doug Kirby

Dear Friends of the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy:

As many of you already know, we learned over the holidays of the passing of one of the giants in our field, Dr. Doug Kirby, a senior research scientist at ETR Associate, and an honorary member of the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (SC Campaign) family passed away in the early hours of December 22. 
Those of us who knew Doug personally will recognize that he had three true loves: his family, mountain climbing and sexual health research (probably in that order). In the early hours of December 22, he was doing what he loved to do – climbing one the largest mountains in the world, Mount Chimborazo, the tallest in Ecuador when he had a heart attack.  Based on the eye witness account of his hiking guide, “Doug was making his way down the mountain, and as he looked around at the spectacular, ice and snow-laden landscape, he said “Isn’t life great!” then suddenly grabbed his chest and collapsed…”  Doug was 69 years old. 

Much has been written about Doug’s passing by people close to him and those he worked with.  ETR has done a wonderful job capturing some of these tributes on their website . 

A little more about Doug’s work in South Carolina…

Our relationship with Doug began in 2002 soon after the SC Campaign was awarded our first grant from the CDC.  Suzan Boyd, the SC Campaign Director at the time, had recently finished reading the book “Emerging Answers” and decided if we were serious about building our organization around principles of research and science, there was nobody better to help us than the author of that publication – Doug Kirby.  “It was worth a shot to call him,” Suzan has told me several times over the years, and admittedly, we didn’t really know what we were doing back then and needed some help! Thankfully, Doug graciously accepted Suzan’s offer to visit us in South Carolina and in the years that followed made countless return trips.  Doug often commented that he spent more time in South Carolina than anywhere else in the world sans his home state of California.  And, in turn, it is fair to say there are few organizations in the country that have translated Doug’s research into meaningful practice in a more substantial way than we have right here in South Carolina. 

As a young graduate student in 2002, I recall thinking it was “pretty cool” to meet Dr. Kirby. Eleven years later I am humbled and honored to say that he was one of my dearest and closest colleagues in this business (but I still struggled with calling him Doug!).  It is not lost in this moment how lucky I am to be able to say that – and frankly, many of you reading this post can say the same.  Some of Doug’s closest friends were here in South Carolina.  In fact, just two weeks ago on December 11, I received an email from him that included the following line: “…I do want to come join all of you this winter or spring.  It has been much too long.  I do not have any particular agenda.  I just miss all of you and want to see everyone…” A special relationship with a special man.   

Doug’s death is a huge loss to the field of sexual health.  His contributions to the growing body of knowledge in the field of sexual health date back to 1977. Most of you will know Doug from his time at ETR Associates, and have only grown in importance over the last three decades.  Our partnership and work with Doug in South Carolina has provided a foundation from which this organization has grown into what it is today.  He is responsible for research that led to terms and interventions such as – BDI logic models, research proven programs, characteristics of effective programs and risk and protective factors.  Those of you who have had any contact with our organization over the last decade can recognize just in that snap-shot how important Doug was to us.  Over the last decade, much of Doug’s work was conceptualized, pilot tested and indeed implemented right here in South Carolina – this is something that each and every one of you should be proud of and hold dear.  Three years ago, in the process of South Carolina securing multiple grants from the federal government, Doug was an active partner in our grant writing and submissions. 

Doug’s death is also a huge loss to those of us who became close to him personally over the years.  It is doubtful that you will ever meet a kinder, gentler sole.  Any time there was a meeting or phone call with Doug, you had to account for the obligatory conversations about family, hiking, traveling – the good things in life – before you were able to get down to business.  It’s the conversations with Doug about those good things in life that I will miss the most.  An unsolicited email with advice for my wedding day; a random phone call just to say “hello, I haven’t talked to you in a while;” stories about diving with sharks in South Africa; a nice dinner amongst friends during his many visits… these are the memories I will hold most dear. 

Please join me in sending your thoughts and prayers to Doug’s family – wife Gail, son Cameron and daughter Kathryn.   I have made arrangements to attend Doug’s funeral service this weekend and will certainly bring with me the love of Doug’s South Carolina family.


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