In his 20s, Glen Doherty spent his winters as a ski instructor in the Rocky Mountains, and his summers as a white-water rafting guide on the Colorado River. The Winchester native flew planes, competed in triathlons, and lived for adventure, for the rush of new experience.
Yet he made a promise to himself. If he didn’t find his calling by the time he turned 30, he would join the military. True to his word, he left a dream life in the Utah mountains to become a Navy SEAL.
“That’s how Glen did everything in his life,” his sister, Kate Quigley, said Thursday. “He was the best of the best.”
Doherty, 42, was one of four Americans, also including Ambassador John Christopher Stevens, killed in this week’s attack on a US consulate in Libya. A decorated veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, Doherty was working as a security contractor at the embassy. The family was notified of his death late Wednesday.
“He was protecting the ambassador and helping the wounded” when he was killed, Quigley said.
In a statement, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Doherty, and his colleague Tyrone Woods, were decorated veterans “who served our country with honor and distinction.”
She said Doherty, who was called Bub, risked his life protecting Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries. “In the end, he died the way he lived — with selfless honor and unstinting valor.”
After leaving the military, Doherty worked primarily in intelligence, his sister said. In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, he worked in Pakistan and Yemen, and arrived in Libya on Sept. 5.
Doherty, who lived in the San Diego area, “always knew the dangers, but he never talked about it,” Quigley said. “He’s been going overseas since 9/11, and he’s always made it back.’’
Sonja Johnson, Doherty’s former wife, said those close to him had encouraged him to come home and find a safer line of work. But the unique demands of his work, she said, was “what fulfilled him.”
“We knew this was his passion, this was what made him happy,” she said.
“He had that adrenaline-junkie kind of spirit,” she added, “and was patriotic through and through.’’
Two years ago, Doherty co-wrote a book titled “Navy SEAL Sniper: An Intimate Look at the Sniper of the 21st Century.’’ In an online biography, Doherty was described as a “combat-decorated” SEAL who served for nine years and had trained operators around the world.
In an appreciation provided by the family, his coauthor, former SEAL Brandon Webb, said Doherty was a true professional and fine friend.
“Don’t feel sorry for him, he wouldn’t have it,” Webb said. “He died serving with men he respected, protecting the freedoms we enjoy as Americans and doing something he loved.”
Quigley said Doherty was positioned on a rooftop as a sniper during the 2003 military rescue of Jessica Lynch, a soldier who had been captured by Iraqi forces. He also played a role in the breaching of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, she said.
Doherty’s family said he believed that liberating Iraq from Hussein’s rule and making democracy possible there was a cause worth risking his life for.
He graduated in 1988 from Winchester High School, where he wrestled and played tennis. Judy Hession, Doherty’s English teacher, said she thought the blond boy with freckles and a ready smile would go on to run his own business or become a CEO. Doherty was a standout student and a happy-go-lucky spirit who “made the room a better place just by being there,” she said.
Glen Otero, who worked with Doherty at SEALFIT Training Center, a fitness facility for aspiring SEAL candidates, described him as an inspiring figure.
“He inspired me to want to serve my country as deeply as he did,” Otero said. “He was certainly someone all the candidates looked up to, and I looked up to.”
His brother, Greg, recalled Doherty as a loyal friend who was full of adventurous stories that “you generally had to shave off about a quarter of the details to get at the pure facts, if those were your concern.”
“His way of making everyone around him feel special and loved came from the fact that he genuinely looked up to all his friends, always seeing their greatness in a way they sometimes wished they could see themselves, and from the fact that he felt for them the purest and most loyal of love,” Greg wrote in the appreciation.
Doherty was the middle of three children. His father, Ben Doherty, is a former boxer and stockbroker, and his mother, Barbara Doherty, ran a Lexington candy store called The Candy Castle for years.
Quigley said Doherty was a “big-hearted” man who had a remarkable way of living in the moment.
“He was always present,” she said. “When you were in the room with him, you would be the most important person in the world.”
The family knew the dangers Doherty faced, and accepted they might someday learn he had lost his life in some distant place. But their faith in him ran strong, and they knew he loved the life he had chosen.
“This is how Glen wanted to live,” she said. “Sitting behind a desk just could never do.”
Doherty’s remains will be cremated and sent to the West Coast, “where he loved to be,’’ Quigley said. There will be a memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery.
At Doherty’s mother’s home in Woburn on Thursday, friends came throughout the morning to pay their condolences. In a brief statement, Quigley said Doherty lived his life to the fullest and was an American hero.
“He was my brother, but if you ask his friends, he was their brother as well,’’ she said.
Stephanie Ebbert and Bryan Bender of the Globe staff and correspondent Melissa Werthmann contributed to this report.