At 69, Dr. Donald Fisher set his sights on hiking to the snowcapped peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain. Only the most ambitious try to reach the more-than 19,000-foot summit, and the expedition seemed made for Dr. Fisher, whose motto was: “If you’re not living on the edge, you haven’t lived yet.”
But when he reached 14,500 feet, his body gave out. Dr. Fisher was devastated, and when he returned to the United States, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died three weeks later.
“He packed quite a lot of living into what was an abbreviated life,” said Mike Topalian, of Worcester, a friend of nearly 20 years.
Dr. Fisher died Oct. 6 in Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He had lived in Wrentham, where he practiced dentistry for four decades, and previously resided in Needham.
Although he considered himself an amateur photographer, Dr. Fisher’s vibrant work occasionally was featured in area libraries.
‘He packed quite a lot of living into what was an abbreviated life.’
A deep-sea scuba diver, he often shot brightly colored fish that live near the sea floor and look otherworldly in his crisp photos.
Topalian, who went along on many dives, said Dr. Fisher was incredibly patient when photographing sea life. Sometimes, Topalian said, Dr. Fisher would become so focused on photography that he would stray from the group of divers.
Even though it could be stressful keeping an eye on Dr. Fisher, the photos were worth it, Topalian said.
“The end result was beautiful,” he said.
Dr. Fisher kayaked extensively on the Charles River.
Also an avid bicyclist, he participated in a number of fund-raising charity rides, along with high-intensity endurance races. The most grueling was the Boston-Montreal-Boston race, in which cyclists rode to and from Quebec. In 1997, Dr. Fisher completed the race in less than 88 hours.
Dr. Fisher, Topalian said, was a free spirit and a true renaissance man.
“He wasn’t wondering what to do next, that’s for sure,” he said.
Dr. Fisher’s wife, Gina, said he always pushed himself to his absolute limits and was fond of sayings such as “Live today because tomorrow you might not be here.”
During his adventures, “no matter how much it hurt, he would not say no,” she said.
Born in the Bronx, N.Y., Donald E. Fisher was a son of Daniel and Mildred (Bomser) Fisher. The family moved to White Plains, N.Y., and he graduated from White Plains High School in 1961.
He studied natural science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., graduating in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree. Four years later, he graduated from the New York University College of Dentistry.
After dental school, Dr. Fisher served as a captain and dentist from 1969 to 1971, in the Air Force, which stationed him at Holloman Air Force Base, near Alamogordo, N.M.
Dr. Fisher then moved to Greater Boston, working first as a dentist in Hull before starting a practice in Wrentham, where he also volunteered with the board of the Fiske Public Library.
His first marriage, to Margaret Duboff, ended in divorce.
On April 13, 1975, he married Gina Bladd, who said the two traveled extensively. Riding a tandem bicycle, they toured places such as Prince Edward Island and Vancouver in Canada, and also rode through the Netherlands.
She said Dr. Fisher was a revered dentist, whose patients stayed with him for decades. When he died, she said, the outpouring of support from his patients was overwhelming.
“So many people have shown respect for him over the years,” she said.
Dr. Fisher loved every kind of toy, she said, and in his spare time constructed remote-control miniature warships from scratch. Often, she added, he donned a naval uniform while racing his battleships.
“He didn’t want to grow up, ever,” she said.
Dr. Fisher sailed a sloop called “Open Wide” along the Massachusetts coast and in Narragansett Bay.
His son Jami Albro-Fisher of Northampton said his father took the family on sailing trips for weeks at a time, stopping at islands along the way. A sentimental guy, Dr. Fisher took a youthful approach to such journeys, Jami said.
“He was kidlike in that he had this great spirit of adventure,” he said.
Jami added that his father “really wasn’t worried too much about what other people thought. He was not one to follow convention.”
In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Fisher leaves a daughter, April Tripp of Scituate; another son, Edward of Middleton, Wis.; a brother; Steven of New York; and eight grandchildren.
A service has been held.
Dr. Fisher was always positive, Topalian said, and didn’t speak ill of anyone.
“He never, to this day, never disparaged anyone,” Topalian said. “If you said something critical about someone, he’d tell you exactly what qualities you were overlooking.”
While Dr. Fisher was ill, Topalian promised he would take his ashes and spread a portion of them across the Caribbean, and bring the rest to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
“He was just a little short of it,” Topalian said. “We promised we’d go back and get him up there.”
can be reached at