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Husband, son, brother, curmudgeon. Born Jan. 6, 1949, in Ottawa, died Oct. 31, 2012, in Toronto of heart failure, aged 63.

Alan's 20-year-old cat, Oliver, was accustomed to sleeping with his humans (Alan and his wife, Melitta) on their bed most nights. When Ollie started having difficulty controlling his bladder, the painful decision was made that he would sleep on the pullout couch in the basement. Anyone who knew Alan was not surprised when, before long, he began joining Ollie in the basement a few nights a week. He couldn't bear to think of his cat feeling isolated.

Alan had a lifetime of being a bit of an odd duck.

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How many 17-year-olds get letters from Harvard pleading with them to select the prestigious school for their graduate studies?

Alan received that letter after turning down Harvard for his undergraduate degree in mathematics, opting instead for the University of Waterloo. Later, he went to Berkeley for his PhD in mathematics.

That doctorate was something he rarely mentioned. He was dismissive of academics putting "Dr." before their names, saying you should only do that "if you can write a prescription." He added that he didn't want some frantic parent calling him in the middle of the night, "worried about their kid's strep throat."

He spent a few years teaching at Waterloo, putting tremendous energy into not only his courses, but also coaching track – he was a runner himself – and developing the university's women's track program.

He left Waterloo to work for IBM and SPEC, opportunities that allowed him to indulge his love of travel and languages. After retiring he became a serious blogger, writing about politics and his many activities, and posting his photographs of Toronto's urban wildlife. He planted milkweed in his yard to attract monarch butterflies.

While he gave up teaching officially, he remained at heart a teacher. Our mother remembers watching movies with Alan and the inevitability of that "teaching moment" or, more accurately, that "curmudgeon moment." He would grab the remote and rewind, explain a detail to her and show it to her again, several times if he deemed it necessary.

Some people might have been irritated, but Mom saw it as the grown-up version of Alan helping her raise his six younger siblings by memorizing Dr. Benjamin Spock's childcare book and telling her when she was doing something wrong.

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Shortly before his unexpected death, Alan told a friend that when he died he didn't want a fuss, and didn't think anyone would come to a memorial for him.

We proved him wrong. People came from as far as Australia, and made a fuss of which he would have approved – no pomposity, and a slide show that included friends, colleagues and all family members, both human and feline.

Rondi Adamson is Alan's sister.

See the guidelines to share the life story of someone you've recently lost.

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