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Dr. Steve Birch, 1947-2009

Longtime orthopedic surgeon died in plane crash Sunday

Dr. Stephen Richard Birch died Sunday, April 19, 2009, while flying his plane off the Gaviota coast.

Dr. Steve Birch
Dr. Steve Birch

Steve was born August 10, 1947, in Ann Arbor, Mich., the first-born son of Dr. Larry Birch and Roberta Chess Birch. His parents created a happy home for their four boys in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After the family moved to Florida, Steve graduated from Jacksonville University in 1973 and obtained his M.D. from the University of Miami in 1977.

Steve met his future wife, Alice Rydell Birch, while he was in medical school and she was in nursing school.  They were married on June 17, 1977, and set off on their life’s adventure together. After Steve finished his training in orthopedics at the University of Florida, Jacksonville in 1982, they moved to Santa Barbara and Steve joined the practice of Gordon Smith, Robert Ottoboni, Joe Peus and Elmore Smith.  Over the next 25 years, Steve became one of the most widely respected physicians in our community with his partners at the office of Peus, Birch, Kahmann, Gallivan and Romero. He was a doctor from the old school, always taking as much time as necessary with each of his patients, and emphasizing the total process of healing. His kind and sympathetic manner endeared him to his patients, who always knew that they were in skilled hands in the office or in the operating room. The office staff greatly enjoyed working with their “Teddy Bear of a man.” In addition, he compassionately donated his professional time at the Santa Barbara County-Public Health Department for many years. Steve was a member of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons, the American Medical Association, the California Medical Association, the California Orthopaedic Association and the Santa Barbara County Medical Society.

Alice and Steve had 31 years of a rich and fulfilling marriage together. They were blessed with three sons — Charlie, Scott and Chris — and had the time of their lives with their boys. They took part with zest in virtually every “guy” activity that one can imagine: from summer bicycle trips across the United States to weekend dirt bike races, from snowboarding at Mammoth to waterskiing at Lake Nacimiento, and from scuba diving the Channel Islands to sailing his parents boat, the Vaya Con Dios, in the Bahamas. His sons’ soccer, water polo and football games were of utmost importance in Steve’s busy schedule. He never passed up the opportunity for a teaching moment and offered a new challenge every weekend morning.

Steve had a lifelong passion for aviation that was imparted to him by his father. He piloted his own plane on many cross-country adventures and functioned, at times, as the family “Air Birch shuttle service” throughout California. He fell in love with aerobatics, in particular, and could often be found enjoying Santa Barbara sunsets upside down from the cockpit.

Alice and Steve made sure their home was the gathering place for the extended Rydell and Birch families and the door was always open for any and all guests; very little excuse was needed for an impromptu backyard barbecue. Steve was always a part of the action, whether building fires, consulting on the tri-tip, or visiting with family members young and old. Anyone who has enjoyed the Birch family’s hospitality knows their home as one of the most generous and loving places to be.

Steve left us much too soon, and there will always be an empty place in our hearts even though we know we will see him again in heaven. Memories of this wonderful man will forever be with the Birch and Rydell families, along with his many friends, patients and all who were privileged to know him.

Steve is survived by his wife Alice and his three sons and two daughters-in-law, Charlie, Scott and his wife Sarah, and Chris and his wife, Kathryn; by his loving parents, Larry and Roberta Birch, and by his brothers, Richard and Robert. His brother, Gregory, preceded him in death. Countless friends and relatives will remember him as a kind and gentle man of integrity.

See how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. — Exodus 19:4

There will be a memorial celebration of Steve’s life at 1 p.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara, located at the corner of State Street and Constance Avenue.

In lieu of flowers, the Birch family requests that you consider a donation to Doctors without Borders/M_decins sans Fronti_res (Doctors Without Borders USA,
P.O. Box 5030 Hagerstown, Md. 21741-5030 in memory of Dr. Stephen R. Birch) or the Orthopaedic Clinic for the County of Santa Barbara-Public Health Department (Dr. Stephen Birch Donation, 300 N. San Antonio Road, Santa Barbara 93110).

Click here for a related article.

Chris Birch is a son of the late Dr. Stephen Birch.

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