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As a boy, Gwynne Nettler was an accomplished athlete. He was a skilled swimmer and appeared as a stuntman in early Tarzan movies and in the original Mutiny on the Bounty.

His higher education began at UCLA, followed by an MA in psychology from Claremont College, and finished with a PhD in social psychology from Stanford University.

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He taught at several American universities; he was also a marriage counsellor - ironic, considering he married and divorced four times. (He once remarked that he could teach sociology of the family by simply telling anecdotes about his married life.)

He began writing in the mid-1940s; most of his articles and books were written during his 20-year tenure at the University of Alberta.

It was a 1961 article that earned him international attention; it questioned the scientific value of viewing deviants as "sick." His influence grew as he published Explanations in 1970, where he observed that the causes to which social scientists point in order to explain actions are more often based on empathy than on fact.

Boundaries of Competence, published when he was 90, reiterated his concerns about the scientific limits of social "science" - an apt closing to an extraordinary academic career.

During the 1960s and 1970s, he attracted graduate students from all over North America. He brought international esteem to the University of Alberta's sociology department.

He was honoured with awards in both this country and internationally. Gwynne was also made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and given the tribute of a symposium and book, Critique and Explanation, edited in his honour.

While at Alberta, he introduced thousands of young Canadians to empirical criminology and fascinated his students with his vast experience and relaxed mien.

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The man had style. He cherished art and music - from opera to Duke Ellington - and cut a dashing figure with his looks, physique, presence, the sports cars he drove and especially the ladies he loved.

He was larger than life, which may explain why so many of us were shaken at the news of his passing. We felt that he would live forever, and he will, through his writing and his intellectual progeny.

But even great men are mortal, and he reminded us of this when he wrote, "Who among us knows whether he will go with a shriek or a sigh?"

With Gwynne, it was easy to predict: He donated his organs to others. He went the way he lived - with class.

A.R. Gillis and Bob Silverman are both friends of Gwynne.

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