Safety Community Mourns the Loss of Larry and Ruth Birkner

The murders of Larry and Ruth Birkner, long-time members of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), as well as contributors to Occupational Hazards magazine, have left a void that will be difficult to fill.

"Our hearts break, not once but twice for the tragic loss of Larry and Ruth," said John Henshaw, assistant secretary of Labor-OSHA. "They were dear friends and colleagues, and true professionals in every sense of the word. With hearts of gold and intellects to match, they gave their all for family, faith, community and the working men and women of this country. While their presence on this earth was short, their impact was great and everlasting."

The Birkners will be remembered for their commitment to, and involvement in, the industrial hygiene and safety communities. In addition to their activities related to AIHA and ASSE, they ran a consulting firm, McIntyre Birkner & Associates, that specialized in occupational safety, industrial hygiene and environmental management. Larry Birkner was a member of the Occupational Hazards' Editorial Advisory Board since its inception, and Ruth Birkner was a contributing editor to the magazine.

"The loss of Larry and Ruth was a double loss to the profession and the association, and our staff feel it as a personal loss as well," said AIHA Executive Director Steven Davis. "Larry and Ruth were so involved and generous with their time and their expertise, and they were extremely supportive of staff efforts on behalf of the association. We have received letter after letter and call after call from members who were influenced by the Birkners during their lifetimes, and I know that their example will live on in their many colleagues who have been inspired by them."

Larry Birkner was a professional member of the American Society of Safety Engineers for over 20 years, and James "Skipper" Kendrick, president of ASSE, called him a "well-respected member of the occupational safety, health and environmental community. Kendrick added, "The members of ASSE and its staff are deeply saddened by this terrible tragedy and loss of Larry Birkner and Ruth McIntyre Birkner. We are shocked that this has happened and our prayers go out to their family."

On a personal note, one of my first assignments as a new editor at Occupational Hazards in 1991 was to travel to San Diego for a meeting of 140 occupational safety and health professionals of Arco, where Larry Birkner was the corporate manager of safety and industrial hygiene. Birkner, realizing that as someone new to the safety industry, I didn't know as much as I one day would know about occupational safety and health, took me under his wing for the four-day conference.

He ensured I understood the discussions, was meeting the right people for my article and answered my many questions with patience. The purpose of that meeting, said Birkner, was to share one of the most valuable commodities at Arco experience. With so many new people in the EHS field, he said, meetings like the one held in San Diego offered the newbies the opportunity to learn from seasoned veterans in the EHS arena. I learned a lot from Larry Birkner on that assignment, and I was always grateful that he decided to mentor me for those four days in November 1991. I became a better-educated advocate for occupational safety and health because of it.

In addition to their work with the safety and industrial hygiene communities, the Birkners were active members of the Sedona, Ariz., community, despite being new residents in the area. Friends say they contributed time and money to community projects, including helping to build a new synagogue. Joe Knauer, president of the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley told the Sedona Red Rock News, "They were absolutely generous and caring. They were new to the community, but they took Sedona to heart and made it their life."

It was a long-time dream of the Birkners to relocate from California to Sedona. Unfortunately, they were only able to live there for 18 months before they were murdered in their home on Feb. 18. Three suspects were arrested Feb. 19 for their murders.

According to the Sedona Police Department, the bodies were found when an employee, arriving for work at approximately 8:30 a.m., entered the home through the garage and found the Birkners in different areas of the home. The coroner ruled the Birkners both died of blunt trauma head injuries.

Police believe the suspects Timothy Robinson, Timothy Lee Alcorn and Robert Alcorn separated after the crime, with the Alcorns each taking one of the Birkners' cars.

Timothy Alcorn had apparently done some contract work on the interior of the Birkners' home, which is the fatal connection between the suspects and the couple.

Feb. 25 would have been Larry Birkner's 55th birthday.

Their family has requested that memorial donations be made to the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley, Synagogue Building Fund, Box 10242, Sedona, AZ 86339-8242. Donations should be given "In Memory of Ruth and Larry Birkner."

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