Juan-Carlos Lertora, who joined Skidmore as a professor of Spanish in 1980, died March 2, 2006, from heart damage caused by a virus he’d contracted several years earlier. He was 60.
Called “a teddy bear in armor,” Juan-Carlos was known as an exacting teacher and generous advisor who had a 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 Lertora ’04 and wife Paty Rubio, a fellow Skidmore Spanish professor.
Born in Los Andes, Chile, in 1946, Juan-Carlos a went to university in Valparaiso, where Rubio also studied. But they soon fled the repressive Pinochet regime, moving to Canada in 1975. After earning their PhDs at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, they joined the Skidmore faculty—Juan-Carlos in 1980, Paty in 1983.
At a crowded memorial service on campus, many faculty, staff, and students described Juan-Carlos’s warmth, depth, and intensity. French professor John Anzalone, a longtime friend, confessed that when Juan-Carlos 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 John told Juna-Carlos 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.” John added that he loved it when Juan-Carlos feigned innocence and “went all meek on me, as it was an unmistakable sign of his affection.” Calling him his “intellectual godfather” and citing his profound influence on his teaching, John said, “His voice echoes time and again in my classes.”
Friends also recalled Juan-Carlos’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 Juan-Carlos’s memory can be made to Skidmore’s Opportunity Program, which helps support students from disadvantaged backgrounds.