In Memoriam: Robert Roy Kirby, M.D., Colonel, USAF, MC

We are saddened to share the news that Robert Roy Kirby, M.D., Colonel, USAF, MC (retired), a professor in the UF Department of Anesthesiology for 21 years, has died. Kirby was a pioneer in developing ventilation concepts and bringing them to patients, as well as a prolific author. He focused on the care of critically ill patients and Civetta, Taylor, & Kirby’s Critical Care Medicine remains a revered text for healing these patients.

Robert Kirby

Below is his obituary written by his family.

Robert Roy Kirby, MD, Colonel, USAF, MC (retired) of Gainesville, Florida, died at his home on April 21, 2022, at the age of 84.

Dr. Kirby lived a full and productive life, serving his country and his profession. Born to Dewey and Nadine (Burnham) Kirby, in Kansas City, Kansas, on April 20, 1938. He was blessed with superior intellectual and analytical abilities and nurtured an insatiable interest in the field of anesthesia and critical care medicine.

He was raised in Oakland, California. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of California Berkeley in 1960 and his medical degree from the University of California San Francisco in 1964.

He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1964 as a resident in anesthesia at Wilford Hall Medical Center. After completing his residency in 1968, he stayed on as a faculty member at the University of Florida Department of Anesthesiology. While at Wilford Hall, he was asked to serve on the Apollo 11 moon landing and was aboard the USS Hornet, a pick-up ship for the Apollo 12 mission (1969). In 1969, he participated in Texas Instrument research of the Doppler ultrasound for non-invasive blood pressure monitoring. This transformed blood pressure monitoring and other future ultrasound medical devices. In the early 1970s, he was instrumental in the research and development of ventilators specifically designed for children. The final product was called the “Baby Bird” ventilator, since the Bird Corporation was heavily involved in funding.  Prior to the development of the Baby Bird, which revolutionized pediatric ventilation, infants and children were ventilated using adult ventilators that had been modified.

In 1970 he was reassigned to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, serving as chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology. He left the U.S. Air Force to join the faculty at the University of Florida in 1972 and was a pioneer in the development of Intermittent Mandatory Ventilation (IMV), Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), and Positive End Expiratory Pressure (PEEP). These forever changed the way patients were ventilated and spurred interest in innovative ways to provide ventilatory support to future patients. In 1976, he moved his family to New Orleans, where he became the first chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at a newly built state-of-the-art hospital in New Orleans, Tulane Medical Center.

In 1982, he re-enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and moved to San Antonio, Texas. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1985. In 1985, he continued his professional career, moving to Gainesville, Florida, to work in the Departments of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine, Shands Hospital. In 1995, he became chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at the VA Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida. He remained in that role until his retirement in 2006.

During his long and impressive career, he received many awards including:

– Forest M. Bird Lifetime Scientific Achievement

– Best Doctors in America, 2003

– Best Doctors in America, 2005

– Shubin-Well Award, 1996

– Haven M. Perkins Award, 1994

– Navy Achievement Medal

– Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster

He was a member of many anesthesia and U.S. Air Force organizations. He participated as an examiner for the American Board of Anesthesiology for several years. As a prolific author, he wrote dozens of books and hundreds of articles related to anesthesia, airway management, and critical care medicine. He loved dogs and horses, but his passion was cars, mostly Corvettes, NASCAR, and drag racing.

He influenced the lives of many doctors, nurses, and others because of his humor, knowledge, thoughtfulness, and consideration. More importantly, he was a loving and caring father, supporting all his children in their pursuit of higher education. Dr. Robert Roy Kirby led a highly successful and rewarding life. He was preceded in death by his sister, Rita Kirby, and Margret Engeron Kirby, his wife. He is survived by his daughter, Lisa Anne Kirby Berne, and her husband, Eric, son Christopher Robert Kirby, son Dr. David Scott Kirby, and his wife, Laura, and son Robert Ross Kirby. In addition, he leaves five grandchildren: Cooper Berne, Karyssa and Addison Kirby, and Caleb and Cole Kirby.

Dr. Robert Roy Kirby will be cremated, according to his wishes. A celebration of his life will be scheduled in the future.

For those wishing to make a charitable donation, please consider a gift to Doctors Without Borders.