Dr. William M. M. Kirby, one of the longest-serving faculty members of the University of Washington School of Medicine and a pioneer in the field of infectious diseases, died at his home in Seattle on Sunday, Aug. 31, of natural causes. He was 82.
During World War II, Kirby contributed to some of the earliest studies of penicillin. Later, while he was an instructor in medicine at Stanford University, he was among a handful of promising young academic physicians recruited from around the country to establish the UW School of Medicine. He came to Seattle in 1949 when the UW medical school was only three years old.
At the UW, Kirby quickly rose through the academic ranks while establishing himself as a distinguished teacher and researcher. Although he became an emeritus faculty member in 1985, he remained highly active in infectious disease research, clinical and teaching activities. He was a daily presence at the school right up until the day he died.
Among his many professional accomplishments at the UW, Kirby led the team that invented a standardized technique, still in use worldwide, that revolutionized the ability of physicians to determine relatively rapidly whether patients’ infections would respond to a specific antibiotic. Among a number of other honors and awards, in 1977 he received the Bristol Award from the Infectious Diseases Society of America, given in recognition of major accomplishments in the study and treatment of infectious diseases and considered the most prestigious honor in the field. During his career, he authored more than 215 articles on infectious diseases and antibiotics in medical journals and textbooks.
“Bill Kirby was a vital, living link to some of the earliest days of our school,” said Dr. Paul G. Ramsey, UW vice president for medical affairs and dean of the medical school. “Few people have had such a sustained personal connection to helping establish the University of Washington as one of the world’s leading centers for academic medicine. We will miss him terribly.”
Born in Springfield, S.D. in 1914, Kirby earned a B.S. at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and an M.D. from Cornell University Medical College. He served as a captain in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1947 after having been chief resident in medicine at Stanford University Hospital.
Kirby is survived by his sister, Alice Dixon of Orlando, Fla.; three children (all of whom are physicians), Barbara Kirby of Edmonds and Philip Kirby and Richard Kirby, both of Seattle; and two grandchildren. His wife, the former Georgiana Dole, and an identical twin brother, Charles, died in 1978 and 1963, respectively.
A memorial service will be held at the medical school later this month. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made to the William Kirby Visiting Professorship in Infectious Diseases, UW School of Medicine, Box 358220, Seattle, WA 98195.