Deceased May 26, 2010

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In Memory

I am saddened to report that my husband, Tom Kirschbaum, Amherst class of ’74, has died in a tragic accident at sea. (He and his father, the late Jerry Kirschbaum M.D. ’47, had been active Amherst alumni for many years).

Tom was returning home from Catalina Island when his International Folk boat, the Feral, was found beached in good condition without anyone aboard, just north of Marina Del Rey at 3:45 p.m. on Sunday, May 23, 2010. Sadly, after an extensive search, Tom's body was found Wednesday morning, May 26, about 4 miles off the coast near Long Beach, Calif. He had participated that weekend in a race from Marina Del Rey to Santa Barbara Island (one of the Channel Islands off of Southern California), which ended at Catalina Island. He was elated Sunday morning with his successful handling of his Intenational Folk boat and placement in the race. He was meticulous in his care and attention to safety and would not have left to return home from Catalina unless he felt the conditions were manageable and safe.   

At the time of his disappearance, it was determined that he wore a tether and harness as well as life jacket, and his boat was extensively equipped with safety and other technological features to assure a seaworthy trip, including epirb, vhf radio and phone. It is presumed a rogue wave, combined with the force of hydraulic pressure, unexpectedly ejected him from his harness and tether and threw him overboard. According to his GPS, his boat appears to have steered a straight course from Emerald Bay in Catalina to two miles off the Palos Verdes coast, whereaupon his GPS stopped tracking, but the boat continued north, guided by its self-steering wind vane unitil it ran aground up the coast on Venice Beach.

Tom was an experienced sailor and swimmer who always took detailed care with all facets of safety and skill when sailing. He enjoyed life, his passion for solo sailing, and time with his family and was looking forward to attending his youngest daughter’s graduation from high school that same week. Tom was a partner in Irell & Manella and headed its pensions department. An article, released by his law firm, states that Tom was “widely recognized as one of California’s leading employee benefits attorneys” and he was also “a world-class sailor with a passion for sailing that went back to his childhood. In 2008, he fulfilled a childhood dream when he successfully competed in the Singlehanded Transpac Race, a famously grueling 2,120-mile solo race from San Francisco to Hanalei Bay on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.” Elliot Brown, managing partner of Irell & Manella, added, “Tom was a first-rate human being, lawyer, scholar and a gentleman. He will be  sorely missed, but not forgotten.”

Gayle Kirschbaum

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