As It Happens

UBC professor killed by rogue wave remembered as a 'wonderful person'

A friend and former colleague of Denis Lynn says the biology professor died after he was hit by a rogue wave while he was out collecting samples in British Columbia.

Biologist Denis Lynn was collecting mussels in Queen Charlotte Sound when he was struck by the wave

Denis Lynn, a UBC professor, was killed by a rogue wave while he was collecting mussels on a research trip last month. (submitted by Michaela Strueder-Kypke)

A University of British Columbia professor is being remembered as a man who loved teaching and learning about science, after he died in a tragic incident last month.

Denis Lynn, a biology professor, was collecting samples in the waters by Calvert Island, B.C. on June 26 when he was killed after being hit by a rogue wave. He was 71-years-old.

"It's a hard loss. It was sudden," said long-time friend Michaela Strueder-Kypke in an interview with As It Happens guest host Rosemary Barton.

"He was still full of plans, he was in the middle of his life. He had just come back from the conference from Cyprus and had lots of collaborations."

Strueder-Kypke said Lynn was on a research field trip with two students. The three went out in the morning at low tide to collect some mussels. Strueder-Kypke said all three were then hit by a wave.

The University of Guelph describes Denis Lynn as a "leading authority on ciliates," which are single-cell organisms that live in water. (University of Guelph)

She said that the two students were able to get themselves out of the water. But, Lynn apparently hit some rocks. After the students retrieved him they tried giving him CPR. But by the time help arrived, Strueder-Kypke said "it was too late." 

A spokesperson with the B.C. Coroners Service also told CBC Vancouver that it is investigating a death that took place on the island.

According to a press release from the University of Guelph, Lynn started his career majoring in marine biology at the university and completed his PhD at the University of Toronto.

He returned to U of G in 1977 as a faculty member in the zoology department. The school called him a "leading authority on ciliates," which are single-cell organisms that live in water.

Strueder-Kypke, who is a biologist at the U of G, said she first met Lynn when she was a masters student in 1991 in Germany. At the time, her advisor told her to send her thesis to some big names in the field of biology.

He was just great. He was really a wonderful person to know, to work with.- Michaela  Strueder-Kypke , biologist at University of Guelph

Lynn, who worked at U of G at the time, happened to be one of the people she reached out to. Strueder-Kypke said he was the only person who replied to her.

"Not only accepting or acknowledging that he had received my thesis, [he also said] 'Well, looks interesting but I think my German is not good enough,'" she said. 

"That's a very typical feature of Denis. He respected everyone, he took everybody seriously and he was very open-minded."

It wasn't until 1993 that Strueder-Kypke met Lynn face-to-face. It was at an international conference and she asked him if she could do her post-doctoral fellowship in his lab. She eventually came to Guelph four years later, and later found a job at U of G.

"He was just great. He was really a wonderful person to know, to work with," Strueder-Kypke said.

Denis Lynn and a group of grad students he oversaw. Michaela Strueder-Kypke, a biologist at the University of Guelph, is on the far right. (submitted by Michaela Strueder-Kypke)

Throughout his career as a researcher, Lynn also served as an editor-in-chief of the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology, and the president and treasurer of the Society of Protistologists.

But while he will be remembered for his love of science, Strueder-Kypke said Lynn had other passions, such as his family, travel, yoga and art.

"He was a well-rounded man. He had interest in everything really," she said.

Strueder-Krypke said that Lynn will also be remembered for being "a very funny person." 

"He seemed very serious, but actually he wasn't. He could crack really good jokes," she said.

"He was in a good mood when he did the sampling trip that morning," she added. 

"So, that brings a little bit of comfort."

Written by Samantha Lui. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. With files from CBC Vancouver