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David Gibbons, one of British Columbia's most respected lawyers, liked to lie on the deck of his summer home watching the Perseid comet shower.

But this year the shooting stars, which he knew arrived in the middle of August like clockwork, fell over his island retreat near Tofino without his watching.

Mr. Gibbons, 64, died Friday in a critical-care bed in Edmonton, where he had been waiting for nearly a year for an organ donation that never came. He needed double lungs, the demand for which outstrips supply in Canada by about 20 per cent each year. Lung transplants are among those least frequently performed because of the fragility of the donor organ and the limited supply.

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"You had to get lungs that [physically]fit, and you needed a matching blood type," said his close friend, Lyle Thurston, who recently spent a week caring for him in Edmonton.

"It was just the luck of the draw that that match never came up."

Dr. Thurston had gone to spell off Mr. Gibbons's wife, Madam Justice Janice Dillon of the B.C. Supreme Court. Besides his wife, Mr. Gibbons leaves two children, Lise and David.

Mr. Thurston said Mr. Gibbons, who had investigated the possibility of getting surgery in the United States before deciding Edmonton was his best bet, was not in pain during his ordeal.

"There was no pain, but there was this horrible gasping for air that's characteristic of a chronic lung infection."

He said Mr. Gibbons, a non-smoker, had "a lung condition that was chronic and incurable and advancing . . . that left his lungs covered with scar tissue."

Despite that, Mr. Gibbons kept his sense of humour and remained philosophical.

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"David was always a positive thinker. And he stayed that way despite everything. We had a chance to sit and think about life, death and transfiguration. We both decided we're here only once and you'd better do it right the first time around. And anyone who knew David would agree: He did it right. He just followed his heart into what his passion was, and it always seemed to work out."

His death came as a shock to the legal profession in B.C., where he was highly regarded for his knowledge of the law and was well liked for his compassionate nature and sense of humour.

This weekend William Everett, president of the Law Society of B.C., called him "one of our finest criminal defence lawyers," while Michael Woodward, president of the Canadian Bar Association, B.C. branch, said his death had sent the entire legal profession into mourning.

Over the years, Mr. Gibbons, a jovial man who could make judges and opposing prosecutors smile with his wry observations, handled some of the highest-profile cases on the West Coast.

He successfully defended former B.C. premier Glen Clark against charges he had accepted a bribe, represented Talwinder Parmer, the suspected mastermind of the Air-India bomb attack who was subsequently killed in India, and defended Peter Gill, who during his first-degree murder trial had an affair with juror Gillian Guess.

Whether it was because of his legal work defending clients charged with drug dealing, or his close work on the Air-India case, Mr. Gibbons used to joke that he sometimes felt he was the subject of police surveillance almost as much as some of his clients.

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Standing on the deck of a neighbour's home on Wickanninish Island, where he had a summer place looking out on the Pacific, he once recounted with delight how he'd led what he suspected were police undercover agents on a wild-goose chase around Clayoquot Sound.

Mr. Gibbons said he'd noticed a boat cruising up and down in front of his waterfront property, apparently fishing for salmon. But through his binoculars he saw that the fishermen didn't have any lines in the water and were watching his home through binoculars, just as he was watching them. Jumping into a speedboat, he raced off, leading the unidentified boat on a crazy chase, before stopping at one of his favourite angling spots. He waved as the pursuing boat suddenly changed course and sped away.

Mr. Gibbons, an avid fly fisherman, took some delight in his notoriety. Unlike many lawyers, he seemed to genuinely enjoy wading into a raucous scrum of reporters outside the law courts, where he defended his clients with the same vigour he used in court.

He served on several committees for the Law Society, including a proceeds-of-crime task force that convinced the federal government to modify money-laundering legislation that had sought to have lawyers report secretly on clients.

As a young lawyer in the 1970s, he did volunteer work for a group of rabble-rousing environmental activists who would later establish the globally influential organization Greenpeace.

"He didn't charge us for a decade; he carried us through the first 10 years from the early 1970s to the formation of Greenpeace International," Rex Weyler, one of the group's founding members, told a Vancouver paper on the weekend. "He was the instrumental force who provided the means of resolving our internal conflict."

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Mr. Gibbons quietly did a lot of legal work without pay. In 1992, for example, he helped former Vancouver police officer Alan Percy Hoare in a fight with the Workers Compensation Board.

Mr. Hoare, who was 88 when he turned to Mr. Gibbons for help, wanted compensation for injuries he'd received 45 years earlier when he was shot in the hip in one of the bloodiest gun battles in Vancouver police history. Two officers were killed that day in front of Mr. Hoare, who pulled his revolver and shot the gunman despite being badly injured himself.

Late in life, when his previously injured leg began to fail him, Mr. Hoare sought medical compensation through the WCB. Realizing that he had a weak legal case but a strong moral one, Mr. Gibbons leaked his client's story to the media, and won a settlement out of court. When active police officers phoned to thank him for sticking up for one of their own, Mr. Gibbons realized, he said with a chuckle, that he had won the respect of the very people who were so often in pursuit of his clients.

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