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A pair of headlights on a dark road were the last thing Dorothy Buechy remembered before she crashed one week ago off Westside Road, she told her daughters from her hospital bed.

Three days later, the amateur ballerina, who during her career as a scientist was among the early researchers in human genetics, succumbed to her injuries, initially reported to be moderate, and died. She was 86.

Buechy was returning home from a benefit event Oct. 16 in Guerneville for a holiday show, in which she had a role, with Monte Rio's Curtain Call Theater when she crashed into a tree and utility pole sometime after midnight.

She had stayed at the Rainbow Cattle Company to help clean up, long after most had gone home, said Michael Tabib, Curtain Call founder and artistic director.

"She told me how much she loved me, and I said so to her," said Tabib, who began coaching her in acting in the 1980s. "I had no idea what was going to happen, neither did she. I will miss her terribly."

To be on stage was Buechy's lifelong dream, one she finally pursued after retiring, said her daughter, Barbara Rankin of Lodi.

CHP officers suspect her driving was impaired by alcohol, although toxicology tests have not yet been finalized. Her family and friends suspect a combination of exhaustion, wine and her slight frame contributed to the crash.

"She was with her friends raising money for the theater," Rankin said. "Everyone said she'd been happy. She was just doing what she loved."

Buechy was born Dorothy Yvonne Whissell on April 12, 1926, in St. Louis to Erna and George Whissell.

After graduating from a private school in St. Louis called the Mary Institute, she attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

Buechy studied German and philosophy and spent her junior year abroad in Z?rich, Switzerland.

She met her future husband, Werner B?chi -- whose name changed to Buechy when he immigrated to the United States -- when a friend convinced her to meet him on a double date at the Kunsthaus Z?rich fine arts museum.

"The other couple decided to traipse off to the bars but my mother and father, being intellectuals, enjoyed the museum. They walked through the streets talking all night," Rankin said.

They kept in touch with steamy love letters after Buechy returned to finish college and entered medical school at Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.

She was one of only a handful of women in her class.

The couple married in Dallas in 1956. They moved to San Francisco, where Buechy finished her medical residency at a former children's hospital in San Francisco.

Buechy was drawn to research and began work studying hemophilia, a genetic bleeding disorder.

She earned a Ph.D. in human genetics at the University of California, Berkeley, and began working with the university's Institute of Human Development.

"All this time she was also raising three girls, being the perfect 1950s and 60s mom," Rankin said. "She would come in from Berkeley, drop her purse, (kick off) her pumps, go straight to the kitchen and start cooking dinner for us."

Buechy was passionate about her work and brought experiments their Mill Valley home to share with her children.

The girls would mash up bananas to lure fruit flies, which Buechy would take to extract their DNA and study their chromosome, Rankin said.

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Buechy studied various aspects of genetics, including smell and taste as well as personality traits, and authored several scientific papers.

Buechy also continued to practice ballet, which she learned as a child, studying with the San Francisco Ballet and performing in the annual Nutcracker production.

"I remember her stuffing lambs wool down into the toes of her toe shoes," Rankin said.

She retired at age 60 in 1986. She and her husband moved to a seven-acre property on Dry Creek Road west of Healdsburg, which they bought with an inheritance from Buechy's father.

Buechy studied acting at Santa Rosa Junior College and threw herself into the local theater scene. She performed with the Pegasus Theater company in Monte Rio and then the Curtain Call troupe. Acting was "what she always wanted to do with her life," Rankin said.

Buechy and her husband traveled extensively abroad, "to places that were on the list that Americans shouldn't visit," Rankin said.

Werner Buechy died in 2006 of a rare skin cancer, one month before their 50th wedding anniversary. In 2008, Buechy traveled to Arizona to campaign for then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

After Dorothy Buechy died, Rankin said she found a script, full of notes and highlighted with yellow marker, on her table alongside an absentee ballot filled out for Obama.

"She was passionate about everything she did," Rankin said.

In addition to Rankin, Buechy is survived by daughters Catherine Fard of Rohnert Park and Heidi Abramson of Alamo.

A funeral service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 209 Matheson St., Healdsburg. Memorial donations may be made to the church.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220, julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @jjpressdem.

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