It is always difficult to reminisce about a dear colleague who has left us. On February 11, Herving Madruga would have been 87 years old. He passed away on January 15, 2017. He had a rich life and was one of the pillars of the Romance Languages Department, teaching French and offering many innovative courses in theatre, especially the one on Moliere, and introducing Italian in the curriculum when our school did not offer it and only two other institutions of higher education in Colorado did. But Herving was best known for his satiric humor and his great skills in debating, always leaving the opponent behind with a pace and punch that was furiously delivered. His argumentative skills were incomparable, and there was a great deal of passion in his delivery too. Furthermore, as a Quaker, he seldom remained silent sin decir la suya (speak his mind), he was an enticing orator who probably liked Cicero for his oratorical skills.
Herving Madruga came to the United States from Cuba at an early age, accompanied by his mother Felisa Llorente, and without a father. The young immigrant completed his education at Harvard, and a Ph.D. at the University of Colorado in Boulder, with a dissertation in French literature that he seemed never being close to finish. But he succeeded as with everything else he touched.
His mother had a great deal of influence on him, and made him appreciate food as it should be, not fast or fancy, but slow and simple, harmoniously prepared so that not one ingredient would outdo the others. Herving was a perfectionist in letters and, in food, a purist. Oratorically, he always outdid other faculty members when engaged in a dispute, and he was intolerant of stupidity and “alternative” facts, which he considered outright lies: a ‘man for all seasons’ even in the age of Trump.
Herving was also a very good card player, as was his mother, and many times Maria Daniels and I played a foursome with them, not always winning, but having fun even when we passionately argued. In some ways, we were pretty close to José Donoso’s story “Santelices,” but the outcome for us was not a violent death. Even when arguing with Herving, and screaming at each other in a department that was not afraid to express itself loudly, we always found time hours later, or a day or two later, to get together and drink a coffee in Worner Center, patching up whatever disagreement we had had.
Herving and Felisa were also very intrigued by dog races, exhibiting a great deal of success in winning quinelas and trifectas, more so than other of his friends who went along on Nevada to watch the races, present chronicler included. For Felisa, the magic numbers were 162, while Herving’s winning combination was 183.
When Herving directed a play, or played in one, his skill as director/actor were always evident, with dear old Felisa sewing up all the costumes needed. When he retired some two decades ago, I inherited his office, which was the largest in Armstrong because of a second room dedicated to clothing for his plays. At one time or another, we all acted in the plays, also under the direction of another great French professor, Marcelle Rabbin. We were shameless in speaking French, in spite of our heavy Spanish or Italian accents. Felisa, of course, became the ‘house mother’ of the Spanish House for more than a dozen years, remaining close to her son wherever he might be, like a protective lioness that knew of his vulnerabilities.
Herving was a man who lived every day in the present. He guarded his lifestyle in secrecy out of respect for his partner Paul, but later, when his lover was dying, and with the latter’s consent, they came out together to the loving embrace of family and friends. Herving was never a desperate or fragmented human being striving to survive in an unaccepting society, nor was he ever caught outside of it. He was as much a part of our department as he was of the world at large. I am sure he enjoyed his reputation as a great teacher, and loved intelligence, cleverness, acuity, and inventing novel arguments that never lacked openness or insight.
A generous human being who helped out so many students and even adopted a few of them, he was always on the side of justice in a society that often cares little or nothing for the less fortunate. Besides financial help to several causes and scholarship programs at the Colorado College, he also demonstrated against undeclared wars and a draft board that was sending young people to die in the far reaches of Southeast Asia. Both he and I were shot at in front of the draft board, by a passing car that fortunately (or intentionally) missed but nevertheless had given us a warning.
Herving Madruga enjoyed the reputation of being a great teacher and is now a legend at this college. Among those who knew him, he will never be forgotten. He was warm and funny, but always authentic, even if, at times, authoritarian or irreverent. We salute you, friend, in all the languages you managed to learn, and in the ultimate one that breathes humanity.
— Salvino Bizzarro, Professor Emeritus