Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — David Kirby was a tall and thick man, with a booming voice and a big laugh. Though he might have reminded some of a bear, Mr. Kirby made tracks with a caregiver's heart and a relentless optimism that he could defeat a terminal disease.
The battle was intensely personal: though he was healthy, a longtime companion and then a wife of nine years had each died of cystic fibrosis, an inherited disease that affects the lungs and digestive systems of about 30,000 children and adults.
As a manufacturer's representative for an environmental supply company, Mr. Kirby had no experience in legislation or government red tape. But by knocking on the right doors, he secured $100,000 in congressional aid for adult cystic fibrosis.
"It's something the average citizen does not know how to do, but he was not the average citizen," said former state Sen. Charlie Justice, who sponsored the University of Florida Adult Cystic Fibrosis Program. "He educated himself on the process and made sure he knew what he needed to know."
Mr. Kirby had learned about cystic fibrosis first-hand. For 17 years he lived with a woman who had the disease, which clogs lungs and hinders a person's ability to absorb nutrients. Patients need a high-calorie diet on top of medications and vitamins that can run thousands of dollars a month.
After his companion died in 1994, Mr. Kirby started the Adult Cystic Fibrosis Task Force to help patients. The following year he married Cynthia, a woman he met at a conference on cystic fibrosis who also had the disease.
"They just clicked," said Judy Blackburn, his sister. "He wasn't thinking about the outcome, he was just thinking, 'Here is somebody I can take care of.'"
When Cynthia died in 2004, Mr. Kirby "took it very hard," his sister said. He also fought back by enlisting Justice in an effort to secure funding for Shands at the University of Florida hospital in Gainesville, where his wife had received care. Legislators knocked the $500,000 they had sought to $100,000, but Mr. Kirby was elated.
Born in Barnesville, Ga., Mr. Kirby moved with his family to St. Petersburg before his first birthday. He began a sales career after Boca Ciega High School.
In 2006 he married Barbara, a Filipino woman he had met online. All was well until doctors diagnosed Mr. Kirby in 2010 with esophageal cancer. He threw himself into fighting that disease, too, even spending several weeks at a cancer treatment center in Philadelphia.
His wife sat beside him at Hospice House Woodside, where a slide show of family photos played on a computer along with some of his favorite music. Mr. Kirby died there Friday. He was 58.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.