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UPDATED: Scotts Valley Researcher, Aptos Resident Dies Climbing Volcano

Douglas Kirby was in Ecuador pursuing a passion when he died of a stroke and heart attack on Saturday.

11:58 a.m. This story was updated. 

A hemisphere away from Santa Cruz County, atop a volcano in Ecuador, a stroke and heart attack took the life of a Scotts Valley-based sexual health expert on Saturday.

Douglas Kirby, a 69-year-old senior research scientist with ETR Associates and Aptos resident, was in South America "climbing one of the tallest mountains in the world," according to an ETR statement.

Kirby was making his way up the Cotopaxi volcano when the incident occurred, the Associated Press reported. 

"Doug was one of the early pioneers in sexual and reproductive health and continued to make a difference touching countless lives throughout the world," ETR said. "He will be missed by all those who had the privilege of knowing him. Our thoughts and prayers go to Doug’s family in this time of grief."

Kirby had climbed to an elevation of about 16,500 feet on the 19,300-foot Cotopaxi volcano when he did not feel well, decided to turn back and stopped with a climbing guide on an outcropping to drink some water, his brother Robion Kirby said.

"The guide said that after having a drink, he said, 'Isn't life great?' and he slumped back and died immediately," said Kirby, a professor of mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley.

When Douglas Kirby's American friend and fellow climber reached him, "he said Doug still had a smile on his face," his brother said.

Although an autopsy was not performed, the coroner in Ecuador said that Douglas might have suffered a heart attack or stroke, Robion Kirby said.

Kirby was an avid climber and had recently scaled Mt. McKinley in Alaska, the tallest peak in the U.S., and Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, Kirby said.

He had started climbing Cotopaxi with his friend and their guides late the evening of Dec. 21, and the guide had called at 2:28 a.m. on Dec. 22 with the news of his death, Kirby said.

"There has been a large outpouring of messages from people in his profession and from neighbors," Kirby said.

After obtaining a doctorate in sociology from UCLA, Douglas Kirby did research on the Russian military, then obtained a grant to study sexual education and later did extensive research into teen sexual behavior, teen pregnancy and AIDS, his brother said.

He made about eight trips over an eight-year span to Uganda and elsewhere in Africa to study the prevention of the spread of AIDS through condom use and circumcision, which at times brought controversy, Kirby said.

A memorial is planned for Jan. 5 at a church in Aptos, Kirby said. 

--Bay City News and Jacob Bourne

Did you know Doug Kirby? Share your memories of him in the comments.

John B. Jemmott III December 28, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Doug was a great colleague and I am deeply saddened by his passing. We met occasionally typically at conferences and we would sometimes have a chance to enjoy dinner and conversation about issues in sex education research, particularly regarding adolescents. He was extremely knowledgeable and thoughtful and good-natured. He was a decent person; so it was always a pleasure to spend time with him. I will miss him dearly, as will many others.

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