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Friends mourn Lértora

Skidmore lost a scholar and mentor—and “a teddy bear in armor”—when Spanish professor Juan-Carlos Lértora died in March, as a result of heart damage caused several years ago by a virus.

Known around campus as an exacting teacher and generous advisor, Lértora was also famous for his quiet but caustic wit. He was a voracious reader with what some described as an “encyclopedic knowledge” of Latin American and Spanish literature; he also read politics, history, and—from cover to cover—dictionaries. And he was known for his devotion to daughter Camila Lértora ’04 and wife Paty Rubio, a fellow Skidmore Spanish professor.

Born in Los Andes, Chile, in 1946, Lértora went to university in Valparaiso, where Rubio also studied. But they soon became exiles of the repressive Pinochet regime. In 1974 they married in Spain, and in 1975 they moved to Canada. After earning their PhDs at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, they joined the Skidmore faculty—Lértora in 1980, Rubio in 1983.

At a crowded memorial service on campus, many faculty, staff, and students recalled Lértora’s warmth, depth, and intensity. French professor John Anzalone, a longtime friend, confessed that when Lértora interviewed him for a Skidmore job, “he scared me silly. He had an imposing and sometimes forbidding mien, and he suffered fools not at all.” Later, when Anzalone told Lértora how intimidating he’d seemed, he “raised his eyebrows with a phony look of utter perplexity and simply said, ‘Me? No-o-o, come on!’ Then his shoulders began to quake as he tried to repress his laughter.” Anzalone added that he loved it when Lértora feigned innocence and “went all meek on me, as it was an unmistakable sign of his affection.” Calling Lértora his “intellectual godfather” and citing his profound influence on his teaching, Anzalone said, “His voice echoes time and again in my classes.”

Friends also acknowledged Lértora’s culinary talents and his love of red wines. Regular dinner companion and faculty colleague Viviana Rangil added, “Every morning we would go to Case Center for a coffee, French roast for both of us, and he would never let me pay for it, in the fashion of a true Latin American gentleman.” The two often walked to classrooms together and shared jokes or conversations in their offices. She said, “Now all the spaces seem empty and full at once.”

Donations in Lértora’s memory can be made to Skidmore’s Academic Opportunity Program, which helps support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. —SR