- Associated Press - Saturday, August 9, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - The executive director of a zoo in Northern California died unexpectedly during an overseas trip, officials said Saturday.

Mary Healy, the executive director and chief executive officer of the Sacramento Zoo, died Thursday while traveling to the Galapagos Islands, zoo spokeswoman Tonja Candelaria said.

The 61-year-old Healy had left a port in Ecuador by ship when she suffered a cerebral aneurysm. She was later declared brain dead and then suffered a massive heart attack, Candelaria said.

Healy was headed to the Galapagos Islands on business and vacation to see animals in the wild and their habitats.

“It’s the thing she loved the most, being out in the field,” Candelaria said Saturday. “The animals were her whole purpose.”

Healy’s husband was traveling with her, Candelaria said.

The widely respected Healy had been the Sacramento Zoo’s director for nearly 15 years. She was instrumental in creating a full-scale veterinary hospital and in overseeing renovations of habitats for many animals, including a $2 million update of the giraffe yard and a $175,000 exhibit for North American river otters, zoo officials said.

Healy had also previously served as a chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. She also was president of the California Association of Zoos and Aquariums and was one of nine international council members of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

A native of Syracuse, N.Y., Healy started her career in 1975 as a bird keeper and became the assistant bird curator at Riverbanks Park in Columbia, S.C. After serving as bird curator at the San Antonio Zoo for seven years, Healy spent nine years as director of Discovery Island Zoological Park at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

A vigil is scheduled to be held for Healy at the zoo Saturday night.

“She had a great vision for the zoo, and it’s really a devastating loss for the city and certainly the zoo,” Sacramento City Council member Steve Hansen, who will host Saturday’s event honoring Healy, told the Sacramento Bee (https://bit.ly/1sxQosT ) Friday.

Memorial services for Healy are pending.


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