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Douglas Kirby Obituary and Tributes

Douglas B. Kirby, World-Renowned Researcher in Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health, Dies at 69.

Douglas Bernard Kirby, PhD, was a senior research scientist at ETR Associates and a pillar in the field of adolescent sexual and reproductive health. He died of a heart attack in December 2012 at age 69, while mountain climbing in Ecuador.

Dr. Kirby received his PhD in Sociology from UCLA in 1975. He was one of the world’s leading experts on school and community programs to reduce sexual risk taking, and dedicated his career to promoting sexual and reproductive health among young people through his writing, teaching, and research.  He authored over 150 articles, chapters and monographs on these programs, and frequently spoke nationally and internationally on his work.  He served as a scientific adviser to the CDC, USAID, WHO, UNFPA, UNESCO, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Dr. Kirby’s career started in 1977 at Mathtech, Inc., as Director for the Social Science Group. In the early 1980s, Dr. Kirby completed a seminal study on the impact of school-based health centers while working at The Center for Population Options (now Advocates for Youth). Dr. Kirby joined ETR Associates in 1988 and continued his work in adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Dr. Kirby was involved in the creation and/or evaluation of numerous sex and HIV education curricula including Reducing the Risk, Safer Choices, and Draw the Line/Respect the Line, among others. He authored several encyclopedic reviews of the scientific literature, such as Emerging Answers 2007, which summarized the literature on adolescent sexual behavior and HIV/STD/pregnancy prevention programs.  This work facilitated access to scientific research and paved a pathway for progress toward more effective prevention programs. More recently, Dr. Kirby worked with colleagues to create Promoting Sexual Health, a program that focuses on STD and pregnancy prevention among young adults and features the promotion of healthy sexual relationships. He also authored a theoretical guidebook, Reducing Adolescent Sexual Risk, on how to develop and adapt sexuality education curricula.

Dr. Kirby’s latest work focused on helping countries ravaged by HIV to strengthen their prevention education efforts through developing more impactful educational programs. Over the past year, Dr. Kirby delivered trainings for Ministries of Education, Ministries of Health and non-governmental organizations from over a dozen southern and eastern African countries on designing effective programs.

Dr. Kirby was a passionate professional who was incredibly generous with his time—answering inquiries from research colleagues, policy-makers, and students with thought and depth. He relished the opportunity to explore scientific issues, and continuously pondered and tackled complexities of the field. Doug was also a caring human being who took personal interest in those he met. He loved a good conversation and took the time to build relationships, show concern, and share his support no matter how overwhelmed or busy he was in his professional life.

One of Dr. Kirby’s goals in life was to help make the world a better place—he achieved that goal and more. Dr. Douglas Kirby will always hold a position of influence in the field of sexual and reproductive health and will continue to serve as an inspiration to others in the field for years to come.

He is survived by his wife Gail, daughter Kathryn, son Cameron, and brother Robion Kirby.  Donations in Dr. Kirby’s memory can be made to Zambia Orphans of AIDS (

Doug Kirby’s last day as told by his friend and colleague

On Dec 23, 2012, at 3:57 PM, Daniel Halperin wrote:

Dear friends and colleagues,

This is one of the most painful messages I’ve ever had to send, probably the most painful one. As many of you know by now, Doug Kirby, his wife Gail, and their (19 year old) son Cameron went to Ecuador this month, mainly to hike in the Andes. As his 70th birthday loomed, Doug wanted to try climbing one last Big Mountain - in particular the tallest one in Ecuador, called Chimborazo (which by chance I had tried climbing when I was 18 years old….Back in March we decided that I would try to join them, which I was finally able to arrange a while back…)

After five wonderful days hiking up various mountains, seeing some of the country, etc., just after midnight on Friday night Doug and I set out to try climbing Cotopaxi mountain, in part as “practice” for Chimborazo, which Doug and Cameron (who had a bad cold this past week, and so couldn’t hike) hoped to climb next week.  But Cotopaxi, at over 19,000 feet the world's highest active volcano, also turned out to be a very challenging and at times dangerous climb (going up steep, slippery ice in the windy cold night, etc.).

Yesterday at just before 4 a.m. (at around 16,700 feet), Doug had what apparently was a heart attack (and according to the autopsy perhaps lung edema and/or a stroke) - and died instantly.   (I was hiking a little ahead of him – he had decided about 15 minutes earlier that he was too out of breath to continue ascending – when his guide yelled up to my guide and I to hurry back to where they were.)  By the time we were able to get there his guide was in tears, saying he had tried CPR and anything else he could try, but that since Doug had suffered such a massive attack he hadn’t been able to do anything to get him to breathe or to get his heart working again…..)  Needless to say, we are all stunned (including the guides, who said it was very rare for this to happen on this mountain, though not many people of Doug’s age try usually climbing up it…  I just kept thinking/feeling that it was a weird, horrible dream that I would wake from soon….)

Doug’s guide told me that as they were making their way down the mountain, Doug seemed fairly relaxed, though exhausted, and looked forward to “having some tea together” at the hut where we had started hiking after midnight.  He asked to stop so he could have some water; they put their packs down (the guide showed me the spot where there were still marks from Doug’s pack), 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….

When I saw his body (about 15 minutes later), he still had a smile on his face, and looked peaceful lying face-up, right next to a steep cliff on the mountainside.  To show he was dead, the guide pulled back his shining blue eyes, still blazing with brilliance… though now lifeless.

Gail, Cameron and I spent most of the rest of yesterday filling out the paperwork for the cremation, etc., etc...  And of course crying a lot…Doug’s family is obviously in a state of huge shock, but I’m amazed at how well they seem to be handling it so far.  They were able to get an early morning flight back to San Francisco on Sunday.

One of the -- many! -- great gifts that Doug gave us happened just the week before, when he and I were doing our first hike together. (We made it to the peak, at about 15,700 feet, just in time to get off the mountain before dark; Doug was insistent on reaching the top; we all know how determined/dedicated he was!....)  On the way down, we happened to discuss our intentions in case either of us should perish in the mountains. He told me, “If I were to die while climbing down here, tell everyone:  "Please don't cry for me.  I had a great life, an amazing marriage, really great kids, rewarding work, including perhaps helping to make the world a better place... And, I died doing what I love."

Of course, how can we not cry?  But his words do seem to soften the pain and shock somewhat…

Oh, and FYI Gail told me on Saturday that in the morning, at around 4 a.m. (just about when Doug died), she woke up suddenly, having trouble breathing and her heart was beating fast, evidently from the altitude…. (Seems to be yet another example of how their strong bond “manifested”?!)

And during the time that Doug’s guide and I spent together (between 4 and 5 a.m. on Sat. morning, waiting for the other guides/helpers to come and carry his body down on a stretcher), we cried and occasionally talked about various things… Several times he said “He was a condor, he’s now become a condor!,” referring of course to the legendary, majestic, sacred, massive, powerful, beautiful Bird of the Andes….

Let’s remember what an amazingly brave, generous, brilliant, kind, life-enjoying man Doug was.  I miss him terribly already…

Tenderly, in sorrow...


Daniel Halperin, PhD
Adjunct Professor
Gillings School of Global Public Health
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Tributes to Doug

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy - Saying Goodbye to Doug Kirby  - January 3, 2013

Shortly before Christmas, Doug Kirby, a brilliant researcher and dear member of the Campaign's extended family, passed away. While we can't fully express how much this loss affects us, we offer the following modest tribute to him and his memory written by our Chief Program Officer Bill Albert. This piece was originally posted on our Pregnant Pause blog.

I first met Doug Kirby on my very first day working for The National Campaign--sometime before Apple was cool and after Neil Armstrong took his giant step. That day, Doug was taking over as Chair of the Campaign's Research Advisory Group from wonderful Kris Moore of Child Trends. To say that I knew precisely nothing about teen pregnancy and all that was being discussed that day would be to qualify for the platitude of the year award.

Although I was in over my head in every way imaginable, what wasabundantly evident to me was just how special Doug was. Everything we all knew and loved Doug for was in sharp relief that day--his gentleness, his generosity of spirit, his dogged devotion to young people, his sense of fairness and inclusion, and his rock-solid commitment to quality research. I became a member of Doug's army that day.

Doug didn't shake hands; he hugged. He asked about your family and loved ones before he discussed work. He loved his profession, he adored his work, and he took great satisfaction--appropriately so--in knowing that he was helping make a difference for young people. And Lord knows he was no stranger to a good laugh.

I had the great pleasure of working with Doug on his publication, Emerging Answers. A friend of mine who did most of the work with Doug on the project reminded me of another one of Doug's attributes--he was damned stubborn. Not stubborn in the pejorative, obstinate way that many of us are; but stubborn about his commitment to helping young people and to quality research. On behalf of all your colleagues, thanks Doug for being so stubborn.

Emerging Answers engendered quite a bit of media attention when it was released. Doug's day of press interviews began quite early in the morning with a live interview on CNN. He didn't relish doing media interviews but recognized that it was critical to the greater goal of helping young people and to building support for what we know helps young people navigate adolescence. The visual I will carry with me from that time is Doug trekking back from the CNN studios on Capitol Hill to the Campaign's offices at DuPont Circle. When he arrived, I asked Doug what he might need in the way of support, background information, or additional talking points to prepare for the approximately six hours of press interviews still to be done that day. His reply? "I don't need talking points, I need a nap." At which point he unceremoniously found the one couch in the office and had himself a prophylactic power nap (protecting him against the media don't you know). Doggedly devoted Doug was.

We all lost a good friend and a valued colleague several days ago when Doug died doing what he loved--enjoying the great outdoors and spending time with his family and friends. The last time I saw Doug was several months ago. Doug somehow knew that my son Harrison--my only child--had recently left to begin his freshman year at college. Before a single syllable was spoken about the relative strength of existing research on preventing teen pregnancy, what was new and choice in the land of peer-reviewed journals, or the latest to and fro regarding federal funding of programs for youth, Doug did what he always did--he focused first on what was most important. He asked about my son. Doug, in that California manner he had, told me about when his son had left for college. His advice on being separated from someone you love and on the proverbial empty nest was, as always, wise, calm, and helpful.

Gentle and generous Doug was. Gentle, generous of spirit, doggedly devoted to young people, fair and inclusive, and absolutely committed to research. That was Doug. As we enter the New Year, let's celebrate his life, his many contributions, and commit to following his lead.


Kieren Jameson -12/28/2012 11:06 AM
Doug was one of the sweetest men I’ve worked with and also one of the most curious. I work in the IT Department at ETR Associates, and whenever I was working on his computer he would always want to know why things went wrong, what I was doing to fix things, and what to do to prevent problems in the future. He had an endless curiosity about how things worked. I will miss him dearly.

Michael Klitsch -12/28/2012 12:58 PM
My association with Doug goes back to the 1980s and 1990s, when I was at the Guttmacher Institute. Doug was a fine researcher and a kind and warm person; he was also a wise reviewer and advisor. I sought his input as often as possible, and it was without exception thoughtful and careful. His death is a major loss to the field, and to us all as people.

Stephanie Guinosso - 12/28/2012 1:55 PM
As a junior researcher, I have always admired those leaders in the field who shine in their expertise while also remaining humble and approachable. Doug was such a person. When I first met him, he was reporting back what he had learned from the World AIDS Conference in 2006 during a brown bag lunch at ETR. What I remember most about that day was not all of the knowledge he shared (although important!), but rather the way he teared up talking about the young people across the globe who continue to get infected with HIV. I was so touched by how he still exuded passion and compassion for this work after so many years. It gives me peace knowing that he died while on top of the world - both literally and metaphorically. You will be missed Doug.

LaShonda Williams - 12/28/2012 1:55 PM
I came to ETR with alot of life experience and a little education, I was apart of an entry level project of which Doug was one of the primary researchers. I was so intimidated as I read his bio and saw all of the amazing work he had done. When I finally met him he made me feel as if all of my life experience was just as fascinating and important as the work he had done. He listened to my very animated stories about the classroom with such intention. He always made it clear to me that everything he had done/was doing was possible for me too. Thank you Doug!

Lyn Bearinger - 12/28/2012 2:07 PM
My first WHO work with Doug was in Thailand about 2 decades ago, where on the third day he asked if just the two of us could have lunch. Having been in awe of his work for many years, I was so honored for him to ask for a lunch together. As soon as we were seated in the corner of the restaurant he said, "I'm so glad to be able to have one hour with someone for whom English is a first language." I hear his delightful chuckle as I write, and will miss his constant curiosity which drove his passion for evidence. All those who work with young people have been profoundly enriched and guided by Doug's work.

Pete Guinosso - 12/28/2012 2:19 PM
I have never met Doug, but the stories I hear and read about him inspire me to stay curious, compassionate, and to NEVER stop adventuring. Doug is no longer here but his love lives on....

When I die if you need to weep
Cry for your brother or sister
Walking the street beside you
And when you need me put your arms around anyone
And give them what you need to give me.
I want to leave you something
Something better than words or sounds.
Look for me in the people I've known or loved
And if you cannot give me away
At least let me live in your eyes and not on your mind.
You can love me most by letting hands touch hands
By letting bodies touch bodies
And by letting go of children that need to be free.
Love doesn't die, people do
So when all that's left of me is love
Give me away.
-- Merritt Malloy

Marcia Quackenbush - 12/28/2012 4:13 PM
I first met Doug in 1986, at a dinner at Debra Haffner's house near Washington DC. I was doing some writing and training for ETR at the time, and he was considering moving west and taking a job in their new Research Department. He asked me what I thought of the organization. We chatted about living on the West Coast, and the good folks at ETR, and I was proud to think I might have helped persuade him to come to ETR. Of course, I found out later that Doug had many sources of information on these matters and knew ETR well. But he made me feel as if my observations were quite helpful and important.

I last saw Doug a couple of weeks ago, at Costco, with his son Cameron. He reintroduced us, reminding Cameron of times we had met before. His pride in his handsome, intelligent son was evident. His smile as he looked at Cameron was pure love. It was cold and rainy that day in Santa Cruz, and everyone was bundled up in fleeces and jackets and sweaters--except Doug, who was dressed in running shorts and a T-shirt. We spoke of the new year, and yes, let's have lunch after the holidays, and I looked forward to hearing tales of his travels.

There is far too much in between these two points to describe, but others are certainly capturing it here. His kindness. His lively humor. His utter commitment to quality and truth in research. His devotion to his work and this mission of helping young people around the world be healthy. Our loss of this friend and colleague is great. The nation and the world's loss of a leader and visionary is even greater. We miss you Doug, more than we can ever say.

Julie Taylor - 12/29/2012 1:56 PM
Doug was a valued colleague and a dear friend. He was an outstanding researcher and made a great contribution to the field of sexual health. However, the memories I will hold most dear are our lunches at Wendys, our walks afterward, and his kind loving spirit. It is hard for me to imaging a world without Doug Kirby. I love and miss you my friend.

Rebecca Rubin - 12/29/2012 3:38 PM
Doug was one of the sweetest and nicest human beings I have ever had the privilege to know and work with. I will miss his smile, easy going way and his meticulous way of doing things like choosing a color. I am heartbroken. He will missed greatly.

Kathy Teer Crumpler - 12/30/2012 12:30 PM
He has always been so highly regarded for his research and advocacy. I always looked to his publications for credible information and insights. His work is so valuable for us as educators and program planners. His influence was far reaching and his expertise will be missed.

Rev. Debra Haffner - 12/30/2012 5:23 PM
The sexual and reproductive health field has lost a giant and I have lost one of my dearest friends and colleagues. Thank you to all of you at ÊTR who supported his work, gave him a home base, and went on all those walks with him. Blessings as you mourn his loss and celebrate his life.

Nancy Gonzalez Caro - 12/31/2012 11:14 AM
Doug was one of the pillars of ETR. He had a reserved approach to his work and was our fountain of knowledge. We all live each day not knowing what will come-- Doug's example shows us to live life fully. It's such a shocking loss not only to us his colleagues, as I'm sure it is to his family.i will miss him.

Charlene Foster - 1/1/2013 9:15 AM
I was so sorry to hear of Doug's passing. But it was comforting to know that, at the end, Doug was with the people he loved, doing the thing he loved. He has touched many lives and will be missed by many.

Konnie McCaffree - 1/1/2013 7:31 PM
Doug was a special person and a dear friend. He enriched my life in every conversation we ever had, was always interested in whatever I was doing, and willing to share his insights and ideas with me. He had the brightest smile, those twinkling eyes, and a welcoming interest in anything and everything. He surely left the world a better place.......and will be remembered by more than he will ever know.

lindsay lincoln - 1/2/2013 7:38 AM
I had the opportunity of seeking Doug's expertise a few years ago while working on a curriculum. His warmth, gentle kindness, and stunning combination of humility and wisdom left a strong impression, not to mention his professional advice. When I met him in person at the IAC a year or two later, he had no time for formal handshakegaves but instead offered a big hug and proceeded with genuine interest to inquire into my work and life. He sought out the person in everyone with whom he interacted despite the professional demands on someone of his stature. Aside from the legacy he leaves through his work, for those like me who benefitted from even brief professional interactions, he leaves the indelible influence of a wise, passionate, and generous teacher and wonderful human being. Thank you Doug for all you have given to me and to so many.

John Shields - 1/2/2013 10:15 AM
I was of course shocked to see this message on Christmas Eve, but heartened by Dr. Halperin's more recent accounting of Doug's last hours. My thoughts and prayers are with Doug's family. Doug was an inspiration to me - his earnest and calm disposition, unshakable dedication to our cause, and his strength of conviction are surely continuing models for us to aspire to. Rest in peace, Doug.

Andrew Levack - 1/2/2013 11:06 AM
I never had the pleasure of meeting Doug in person, but he fundamentally shaped my career. When I was a young sexuality educator, Doug’s publication “No Easy Answers” helped me understand the need to rigorously evaluate teen pregnancy prevention programs. When Doug published “Emerging Answers,” I used his findings to influence the projects I worked on. More recently, my colleague Lori Rolleri and I asked Doug to review a new curriculum that we wrote. Doug quickly sent us his extensive and thoughtful feedback. After hearing Doug’s praise for our publication, Lori and I chuckled that we felt like young students who had just passed an exam. Doug’s professional opinion meant that much to us. Doug’s work and legacy will continue through my work, and through every professional that continues to benefit from his enormous contributions. Bless you Doug Kirby, you will be missed.

Bob MacDonald - 1/2/2013 2:20 PM
I was very saddened to hear the news about Doug. He was such a sweet man and an oracle of knowledge about sexual health. He was so helpful to our Navy effort to reduce unplanned pregnancies. God Bless you Doug. I will miss you.

Peter Belden - 1/2/2013 2:22 PM
What a loss. Doug was such a joy to work with. Wise, gentle, humble and warm.

Lorel Mayberry - 1/2/2013 5:53 PM
I am so grateful to have known Doug. His contribution to the field is immense - his research has guided my work in sexuality education for decades. My sympathy goes out to his family and friends for their loss.

Lorel Mayberry
Department of Sexology
Curtin University
Perth, Western Australia

Kay Clark - 1/3/2013 10:28 AM
I had worked with Doug long distance since I came to ETR in 1986 (he was a founding Board member and contributed to our quarterly journal, among other things), but I met him in person for the first time on October 4, 1988, his first day at ETR. We both ended up at the back door at approximately the same time, and he rushed to open the door for me. I joked that he might consider changing his habit of opening doors for women, now that he was living and working in Santa Cruz. He cocked his head in that Doug Kirby way, smiled, and replied after a brief pause, "I see."

There's no real way to express the empty place Doug has left in my heart, at ETR and in the world. But he's also left a ton of inspiration, information and loving kindness behind him that will, of course, live on. And he never stopped opening doors for women. I feel blessed to have known him.

Barbara Marin - 1/3/2013 2:07 PM
I met Doug Kirby about 20 years ago at a meeting on sexuality in DC. We took the same flight back to San Francisco and by the time we landed, we had cooked up a research idea. We spent the next 10 years writing, getting funding, and having great fun actually carrying out the research on what became ETR’s Draw the Line curriculum. Of all the research I was privileged to be part of, that project has a special place in my heart. Doug was smart, curious, respectful, enthusiastic, kind and had a great sense of humor. He was also an attentive listener, and a critical thinker (even a little stubborn at times).

As often happens with colleagues, at some point he became my friend. We talked of his love for Gail, Kathryn and Cameron, even traded stories of how we met our spouses. He inspired me with his devotion to making the world a better place. He was equal parts caring and integrity; his was a life well-lived. I have so much gratitude for having been his friend.

Mary Oliver says it well:

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

Melina Bersamin - 1/3/2013 10:03 PM
I only met Doug once in person....but as a junior researcher I would call him every two years with an idea for a project. He was very generous with his time and would always share his knowledge and thoughts on the topic without asking for anything in return. He will be missed.

Melanie Dees - 1/4/2013 5:56 AM
I met Doug about 13 years ago at a pregnancy prevention training. He was the foundational piece for my expierence in this field. But one of the things I remember most was how he spoke of the love of his life, his family. I feel blessed to have known him.

Michelle Nimmons - 1/4/2013 6:44 AM
Doug was an amazingly rare man, brilliant and humble.

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