Portland has lost a fixture of the sports community. John Kirby, organist, commentator and sports television producer, died on February 13, 2017 at the age of 63.
Mr. Kirby served as the organist for the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL at one point, as well as for the Portland Beavers minor league baseball club during his years in the Pacific Northwest. His talent for the organ was present in arenas and churches alike for most of his life. Kirby also had numerous roles in TV and radio broadcasts for the Portland Winterhawks.
An Albany, N.Y. native, Kirby attended Clarkson College of Technology (now Clarkson University) and developed a background in engineering. He would go on to test one of the first GPS prototypes for Hughes Aircraft in the late 1970s. Careers at Tektronix and Intel anchored Kirby in the Portland area through his retirement in 2006, during which time he was a freelance crewmember and personality within the broadcasts of the Winterhawks and the Portland Trail Blazers. This ranged from technical director up to on-air color commentator. Some of the broadcasts he directed and produced were featured on ESPN and NBC Sports.
In recent years, Kirby was a fixture during Winterhawks playoff broadcasts, known for his commentaries from down near the action on his “roving wireless microphone.” Altogether, he spent more than 30 years affiliated with Winterhawks radio. News of his passing was met with an outpouring of praise and warm memories from various Winterhawks media personnel on social media, including commentators Andy Kemper and Todd Vrooman. Winterhawks Senior Vice President of Operations and Marketing Kelley Robinett tweeted on Thursday, “John Kirby once walked me through a broadcast issue while he was watching the Iditarod dog sled race from the starting line…in Alaska.”
Kirby himself was an athlete, recently training for a triathlon, as well as a reserve officer for the Portland Police Bureau. He is survived by his wife, Cindy Canfield, three sisters, and one brother along with many nieces and nephews. Many a Winterhawks fan will be worse off without his tireless effort and enthusiasm for the sport, let alone his technical prowess that has helped us hear and see the games from our cars and living rooms. Mr. Kirby, you will be missed.