Dr. Stephen Richard Birch

1947 - 2009, Santa Barbara

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

Steve was born on August 10, 1947 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 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 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 County of Santa Barbara-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 U.S. to weekend dirt bike races, from snowboarding at Mammoth to waterskiing at 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 life-long 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 that 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 BBQ. 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 predeceased him. 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 on Saturday, April 25th at 1:00 pm 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/Medecins sans FrontiÃres (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, CA 93110).

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Independent Discussion Guidelines

Dr Steve Birch was one of the kindest and most beloved persons that everyone that knew him had ever known. It is far from a cliche to say that he will be missed dearly by his entire family and EVERYONE who ever met him. God Bless You Steve.

rydintl1 (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2009 at 12:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Steve was truly an angel on earth. He lived and loved life to the fullest and we are all the richer for having him in our lives and hearts. I will truly miss his sweet smile, positive attitude, quiet nature, unfailing patience and his gift for making anyone he met feel like a long lost friend.

He was an exceptional brother-in-law to Chuck and I, and a stellar uncle to Tony and Sam. We have countless memories of our times together filled with laughter and love. We will always love you Steve.

Christine, Chuck, Tony and Sam Rydell

christinerydell (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2009 at 1:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Heavy in heart, our spirits are lifted as we remember the far too few days spent in the loving company of Steve. Time has no meaning in our memories, for Steve is in our hearts forever.

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds,---and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of---wheeled and soared and
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew---
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John G Magee

Kent, Darlene, Daniel, and Kelsey
Jackson Auburn, Ca

kentjackson (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2009 at 11:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Chris and Kathryn--We are so very sorry for your loss.

We only met your dad briefly at Kathryn's graduation party, but we're so glad we did! Even from that brief encounter we could see how kind and compassionate he was. And above all, we could see that Chris is his spitting image in many ways, both inside and out--so it's clear your dad will live on in your hearts and through your lives.

We extend to you our thoughts and prayers. May God give you ever more grace in these times.

Love always, Michael and Christina Chung

onaxos (anonymous profile)
April 23, 2009 at 10:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Best Pilot I ever knew...
Best Doc I ever knew...
Best Friend I ever knew...
Heaven is lucky to get such a great man!
RIP Dr. Stephen R. Birch

RIP_SRB (anonymous profile)
April 23, 2009 at 2:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It is difficult to wrap my mind around this tragedy. With all the thoughts swimming in my head, one resounds above the others: I am so thankful to have known Steve. He was an immensely proud father, a deeply devoted husband to Alice, and the best doctor-friend I have ever known. He had an amazing ability to make you feel comfortable and welcome when you talked to him. In a short conversation, you would quickly come to realize that this is a man who thoroughly enjoyed life. He packed more living into 61 years than most people could manage in 100. And while his death is painful for those of us who knew and loved him, the bigger tragedy in my opinion, is for those who have never met him. I wish you all could have known Stephen Birch. You would have loved him too.

sbthree (anonymous profile)
April 24, 2009 at 9:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

As a patient of Dr. Birch for the past nine years, I can not imagine what life as I know it, will be without him. After being thrown from a horse, he put me back together, one step at a time. He had the patience of Job, with the kindest and most caring heart I have ever known. He never had a mean thing to say and oftentimes would listen to me vent all my frustrations, which had to be trying. He was the Doctor that was willing to take the extra mile with his patients, make you feel cared about, was willing to laugh at a silly joke or crazy story and always was eager to hear how my Grandson's skateboard competitions were going.
He and his entire staff, now looking in retrospect, were a divine gift to me in the most difficult times of my life. I will cherish the memories always. My condolences to his beautful family and dear friends and his partner and staff. I knew he must of had wings, but I didn't even know he could fly. Thank you, God, for sharing such a good man and gifted Doctor with us: we sure do miss him. Colleen

ColleenLoa4 (anonymous profile)
May 4, 2009 at 4:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Well I just found out (I live in LA & hadn't seen the news). I called the office to get my usual injections in the knees when I was told. I'm overwhelmed with sadness and loss. Dr. Birch had been my orthopedic surgeon for many years, even after moving to LA I'd drive up to SB for appts with him. He fixed both my shoulders perfectly--no matter how much time it took. He made quite an impression on people (my aunt included!) with his kindness, never being in a hurry to get you out the door (rare in doctors these days!), remembering even the smallest details, always listening to everything you had to say, and he had a great sense of humor. And he always looked you right in the eye when you talked, gave his full attention. If you were a patient, you probably noticed he explained things in a way that you could understand, but never talked down to you or made you feel stupid. You knew you could trust him. His office staff are amazing too--no surprise, birds of a feather, you know. I'd never met his family, but I'm sure they must be wonderful. I know he was proud of them--their beautiful photos are in his office's treatment rooms where many other doctors might have prints of paintings or diplomas/certificates, etc. He is going to be sorely missed by more people than we could ever know. My condolences to Dr. Birch's family, friends, and all the doctors and staff at Peus, Birch, Kahmann, Gallivan, and Romero.

SBNativeinLA (anonymous profile)
May 7, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Dr. Birch was my dr. for over 13 years. He was the best dr. i have ever had. he was so sweet and compasionate. He was my dr. when i had insurance and when i didn't and couldnt afford to go to his office he told me to go to the clinic and he could see me there. He helped me in so many ways. I could talk to him about the problems with my sons and he was a very good listener. I gave his a couple of grateful dead ties and he always wore them when i had an appointment maybe coincidence but nevertheless he wore them. I will miss him and I don't know now what to do because he was the only dr. I trusted to work on my knee and i need a joint replacement. My sympathies to his family they were lucky people to have him in there family. He will be always missed by me

pdbkiera (anonymous profile)
June 3, 2009 at 5:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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