Cover photo for Terrence O'Connor's Obituary
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1975 Terrence 2024

Terrence O'Connor

July 7, 1975 — May 10, 2024


Dr. Terrence Richard O’Connor died in an avalanche in the mountains of Idaho on May 10, 2024. He was 48 years old. Terry grew up in Orinda, CA and his love for the mountains started at the Sierra Nevada. He combined his love for awe-inspiring mountain adventure with service of others in local, national, and international roles that included mountain search and rescue, philanthropy, emergency medicine, COVID pandemic policy and research, podcasting, and educating health professionals on the impact of climate change on public health. He was a doctors’ doctor, a mountaineer’s mountaineer, and a dedicated public servant. While working in Nepal on a 1999 research expedition at Mount Everest and in a small hospital nearby, Terry decided to apply to medical school. He graduated from the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine in 2004, returning to Mt. Everest before and during his emergency medicine residency training at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. While serving as expedition physician, Terry summited Mt. Everest on May 14, 2006. He joined the St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center Emergency Department in 2011 and also served as clinical faculty for the medical schools at the University of Colorado and at the University of Washington. In 2015, he became Medical Director for Emergency Services in Blaine County and the Stanley Ambulance District. In order to better serve that role, Terry completed the Blaine County Fire Academy in 2015 and would sometimes respond to ambulance calls with Ketchum Fire Department and with Wood River Fire and Rescue. A life of service to others was central in Terry’s ethos and legacy. Following the massive April 2015 earthquake in Nepal, he raised earthquake relief funds by running and biking three ultra marathons in Idaho and Colorado and returned to Nepal to help with the rebuilding of homes and a school, as well as delivering remote medical care. In 2016, Terry traveled with a group from the Wood River Valley to Laos to bike on the Ho Chi Minh trail to raise awareness about the issue of unexploded ordnance while raising funding for the Mines Advisory Group. In 2017, he saw the need for physician leadership in addressing the impact of climate change on public health. This led him to the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health to pursue a masters degree and helped launch the University of Colorado’s Diploma in Climate Medicine Program which trains clinical leaders on the public health effects of climate change. In 2018 Terry returned to Nepal to climb and from there to the slums of Kolkata, India, where he spent a few weeks providing volunteer medical services. That same year, he founded The Adventure Activist, a nonprofit podcast featuring adventurers who are also, in Terry’s words, “humanitarians doing good work in the arenas of climate change, social justice, environmental conservation, disaster relief, international health and more.” Terry blended adventure with service as a climbing ranger at Mount Rainier National Park, teaching avalanche safety in Utah, Oregon, and Idaho, and being active in search and rescue in the mountains around Lake Tahoe, Rainier, the Tetons, and in Idaho. He was an expert mountaineer, backcountry skier, wilderness mountain biker, an author of a chapter in the 7th edition of the esteemed Paul Auerbach’s textbook “Wilderness Medicine”, informally advised Sawtooth Mountain Guides, and served as medical advisor for Sun Valley Trekking. A natural leader with innate interpersonal skills, Terry was just who we needed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. His ability to distill scientific information about a new infectious disease into real time advice on public policy earned him the nickname, “the Dr. Fauci of Blaine County.” He led two research studies on COVID-19, including one with national scientific collaborations. For his efforts during the pandemic, Terry earned the Idaho Hospital Association’s Excellence in Patient Care award and was honored by the South Central Public Health District. Dr. Terry O’Connor was a man of profound grace, compassion, composure, vision, humor, humility, aptitude, love of adventure, and above all a kind and thoughtful humanitarian. He embodied what many of us aspire to be and has been an inspiring friend to many people across the world in all walks of life. He was preceded in death by his father Kevin O’Connor and is survived by his mother Lilia O’Connor, his brother Chris O’Connor, Chris’ partner Karen Belcher, niece Ava O’Connor, his partner Emily Williams and his beloved dog Revy. He leaves behind a loving family and a close-knit community who will miss him deeply.


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Thursday, June 20, 2024

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