Purdue was born in Indianapolis. His family moved to Albuquerque in 1949, where his father was an electrical engineer at Sandia National Laboratories and his mother taught piano. As a youth, Purdue excelled in archery and golf.
After his graduation from Highland High School in 1965, he traveled to Australia and did a nine-month “walkabout” from Sydney on the east coast to Alice Springs in the Outback interior.
“He said he wanted to live like Tarzan and hunt alligators,” said his wife, Donna Purdue, who met him in 1965 and married him in 1967.
After he returned to Albuquerque he attended the University of New Mexico and received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in geology, in 1972 and 1975, respectively.
It was at UNM in 1967 that Purdue discovered Japanese Shotokan karate. It was being taught by Steve Clapper, who had learned the art while he was a high school student in Japan. Clapper had started the UNM Karate Club, the first karate club at the university, in 1965.
“Gary was one of my first black belt students. He was a natural and a perfectionist about learning technique, especially learning and performing kata (forms),” Clapper said. “He studied and analyzed karate technique in detail and in a way I had never done.”
Purdue devoted his spare time to the daily practice of martial arts and soon moved into the study of traditional Japanese and Okinawan weapons. He advanced quickly through the ranks.
When Clapper went into the Navy in 1971, he turned over operation of the club to Purdue and fellow black belt Dick Rienstra. “The rest is history,” Clapper said.
With the karate club deluged with students, UNM asked Purdue to start teaching karate classes as part of the university’s physical education curriculum. During his years as a karate teacher, or sensei, Purdue taught more than 10,000 people, including police and military personnel, and promoted hundreds of them to black belt, said Clapper.
Purdue also became a nationally ranked competitor in fighting, forms and weapons forms, winning or placing in more than 200 tournaments. Along the way, he was inducted into the United States Karate Association’s Trias International Society, the U.S. Karate Alliance Hall of Fame, and most recently the Hawkes International Society.
Shortly before his death, the United States Association of Martial Artists promoted Purdue to 9th degree black belt.
The Rev. Rich Willard, who studied with Purdue at UNM and received his first black belt in 1976 under his guidance, also became a longtime friend.
“Gary was responsible for turning my choppy chaos into smooth technique, and he was the first person to get me thinking beyond physical technique,” Willard said.
Purdue retired from UNM last year, though continued to be involved with the martial arts, attending a tournament as recently as April, where he demonstrated a kata.
Daughter Shauna Babcock said Purdue was “a loving husband and father, and a man of great intellect and humor.”
Purdue is survived by his wife, Donna, their daughter, Shauna, son-in-law Troy Babcock, brother Keith Purdue and niece Michelle Purdue-Story.
A memorial service will be at 6 p.m. Friday at Daniels Family Funeral Services, 7601 Wyoming NE.