Ricardo J. Quinones: 1935-2019

My dad died early Friday morning. He was a great father, loved his boys fiercely, a beloved and tempestuous literature professor at Claremont McKenna College, a husband, scholar and author. 

I’m only beginning to understand how much I’ll miss him.

Here’s my obituary for him, which I’ve submitted to the newspaper in our hometown:

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Ricardo J. Quinones, a long-time Claremont resident and retired comparative literature professor at Claremont McKenna College, has died from complications of a many-year struggle with Parkinson’s Disease.

Prof. Quinones was also founding director of the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies at the college, which now has a distinguished lectureship in his name. For several years, he served on the board of directors of the National Council for the Humanities, appointed in 2004 by President George W. Bush.

He died in hospice care at his home in West Los Angeles on Jan. 25, 2019. He was 83.

Prof. Quinones and his young family arrived in Claremont in an old Buick station wagon in 1963, straight out of Harvard University, where he earned his PhD under renowned literary scholar Harry Levin.

Over the years he became a fixture on the small, growing campus, a beloved teacher for generations of students, in love with his subject. He was chosen Professor of the Year in the mid-1970s. He was also at times a tempestuous figure. He protested the Vietnam War, supported the Civil Rights Movement, loved Robert F. Kennedy and voted for George McGovern. Years later, with increasing encounters with a stifling political correctness in academia, his politics veered away from the Democratic Party, believing it had left him, though his favorite presidents remained Harry Truman and John Kennedy.

He was one of the first presidents of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers – which formed in 1994 in opposition to the politicization of debate in the humanities and as an alternative to the Modern Language Association, the mainstream organization of literature scholars.

Through it all, he loved reading and literature and all kinds of stories, baseball and basketball, movies, especially gangster movies, and The Godfatherabove all. He was as delighted by Bird and Magic as he was by T.S. Eliot and King Lear. During the 1963 move to Claremont, he entertained his then-two young sons with the stories of Odysseus, and his office was a famous chaos of books and papers piled in seemingly incoherent stacks, in a filing system only he could decipher.

In his long career, he wrote nine books of literary criticism, including three in retirement while battling Parkinson’s. He was a noted scholar and expert on the works of Shakespeare, Dante, and James Joyce.

His last book, North/South: The Great European Divide, in 2016, was a discussion of Protestant and Catholic Christianity and their effect on economic development. His first book,The Renaissance Discovery of Time(1972), is considered a standard of literary studies of the period.

Novelist Charles Johnson used Quinones’ book, The Changes of Cain, an exposition on the Cain-Abel theme in literature, to influence his 1998 historical novel, Dreamer, about the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In retirement, he also wrote five books of poetry. His poetry tended toward storytelling. He wrote a poem about the plane that went down in that Pennsylvania field on September 11 – Shanksville– and another about his memories at age 10 of the men returning from World War II.

As the disease withered his muscles and twisted his fingers and toes, he nevertheless held poetry events, with actors reading his work, combined with a cellist or a violinist.

Ricardo Quinones grew up in Allentown, PA, the second child of Laureano and Maria Elena Quinones: He an immigrant from Galicia, Spain and a worker in a brewery; she a worker in a sewing factory, born in America to a large family of immigrants from Calabria, Italy. Growing up, he was an altar boy and a copy boy at the Allentown Morning Call newspaper. A friendly priest channeled him into college, something rare for kids from Allentown’s teeming neighborhoods of southern and eastern European immigrants. 

He attended Northwestern University. Originally intending to be a journalist, he fell under the mentorship of Donald Torchiana, a Northwestern literature professor, and from there his career focus shifted to academia. 

At Northwestern, he also met his first love, Lolly Brown, a student from Des Moines, Iowa. They were married in 1956. Their early days were spent in Europe on a Fulbright Scholarship, studying in Italy, Germany, and France, where he played basketball for a club in the town of Clermont-Ferrand. 

He came to Claremont as the town was morphing into a place of great musical, artistic, and cultural effervescence. His friends were poets and artists, then later political scientists and economists. His sons attended Oakmont Elementary, El Roble Junior High, and Claremont High School, and he sent them to Berkeley, Yale, and CMC.

He encountered death too young. His mother died when he was 11; his father when he was 22. His second son, Nathanael, died at 18 in a car accident in February, 1979, followed by his wife, who died of cancer that May.

After that, he raised his two youngest sons – Ben and Josh – alone. They went on to become attorneys. His oldest son, Sam, is a journalist and author.

In the late 1990s, he met Roberta Johnson, a literature professor at Kansas University specializing in Spanish women writers. They fell in love and married in 1998. One of his books of poetry is titled Roberta. She cared for him through his illness, along with his wonderful caregivers, Anthony, Marlon and Ferdie. 

Up until his death, he was working on another book, this one undefined except that its focus was on the 1800s. His stack of reference books on the dining room table included Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn, and biographies of Napoleon and U.S. Grant.

At his last Christmas dinner, he read to his family For the Union Deadby poet Robert Lowell.

A public memorial service will be scheduled in Claremont, with a date to be announced later.

26 Comments

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26 Responses to Ricardo J. Quinones: 1935-2019

  1. Laura Field

    I never met him, and yet, I feel the void. I’m so sorry, Sam.

  2. Richard J Drake

    Sam, for the best—and I do mean best—part of four decades, I felt closer to your father than I ever did to anybody else I ever knew. Certainly no one brightened my outlook or enriched my life more than did RJQ.

    That first photo of him, in his office—right next to mine—on the third floor of Bauer Center (some time in the early nineties, I’d guess; I remember the photo session), captures precisely the image that I most often see whenever I think of him. During those years, when he was often the first person I’d see in the morning, and the last at night, I even managed to get familiar enough with the (apparent) disarray on those bookshelves to locate and fetch for him a particular volume—and bring it back to the house along with the next day’s *Racing Form*.

    I already miss him enormously.

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss. Sounds like a wonderful father and gentleman.

  4. A worthy tribute for an obviously worthy man. As a man almost your father’s age, I hope my children can honor me as you have your father

  5. Julie Pipes

    Sam, your father sounds like an amazing man. What an interesting life! You are lucky to have had him. I read your blog religiously and am waiting with baited breath your next book. I read Dreamland in two days. Enjoy happy memories of your accomplished father.

  6. Robert Harper-O'Connor

    I am sorry to hear, Sam, but glad for you that he was able to live to see the beginning of your success. He will rest in peace.

  7. Kate mulligan

    An extrodinary man. Thank you for sharing his life with strangers like myself. May his memory comfort your heart now and for the rest of your life.

  8. Amanda Marie

    I’m sorry for your loss. He must have been very proud of you. How hard for you to write such a powerful remembrance of your own father. But nothing can take away the memories.

  9. Todd Savage

    Sounds like a truly wonderful man. You are blessed, and sounds like very grateful as well. What an honor.

  10. Mr. Quinones – So sorry for your loss. Losing a parent is both painful and seminal. And yet, only the physical presence is gone; all the good your father did, and all the memories he created, live on.

    I will be thinking of you and yours in the days and weeks to come, and asking for comfort and peace amidst the grief.

    Bruce Maples

  11. Kieran Mahan

    Sam,

    My deepest sympathy to you and your family. What a wonderful tribute to your Dad. Hard to summarize someone’s life, but the obituary certainly gives us a feeling of a life well lived by a good and honorable person. In the end, that’s what most of us would like to hope for. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Shirley Omerigbo

    Sorry to hear this sad news. I met Rick and Lolly when Lolly worked at North San Antonio Elementary School in PUSD. You are Blessed to have had Rick and Lolly as parents…both so richly gifted. Didn’t see Rick a lot, but saw Lolly daily as she taught the Gifted and T.alented Class at North San…(now Barfield) The RICH Legacy you inherited will live on… Rest well, Rick.

  13. Kyle Fortson

    Dear Sam,

    Old friend, I am devastated, to hear of the passing of your father. I knew that he was had been battling Parkinson’s for some time. I have asked Josh about him, every time that we have spoken. He was a great man. A great father, to you band your brother’s. I always enjoyed seeing and talking with him. I have always thought of him as a lion, since that day, so long ago, when he eulogized Nate, descibing him one. Ric, to me, was a literary lion; with his mane of hair, beard, eyeglasses and welcoming smile. I will miss him too. May he rest in peace.

    Please accept the condolences of the Fortson Family, for the Quinones Family. God be with you all.

  14. Brent Kagan

    Sam and family,

    I am so sorry for your loss. Your father was a very interesting man. It is obvious that regarding his oldest, the apple did not fall far from the tree.

    Brent.

  15. Steve Fainaru

    Sam, what a lovely tribute to your dad, his life and his work. Peace to you and your family.

  16. Hélène Houle

    I second all above expressions of sympathy and would like to extend my sincere condolences. Thank you for writing his obituary and wish you healthy healing. Deeply sorry for your loss.

  17. Esther Dyson

    Honor where due. Thank you for sharing your memories of this wonderful man. You and your family were blessed!

  18. Peggy Adams

    Hi Sam, I am so sorry for your loss. I am sure he will be dearly missed. You did a good job outlining his life. And, Wow, what a great mentor your father must have been for you. I am impressed with such an accomplished man as your father and that he was just following his dreams. God bless you and family and may you continue to follow your dreams!

  19. My deepest condolences. You come from a very distinguished background, and continue to distinguish yourself .. Thanks for all that you do.

    Jonathan

  20. Dear Sam,

    My deepest condolences to you and your family on the loss of your father. What an extraordinary life he had; thank you for sharing these details of his rich and inspiring life.

    I am guessing that your father may have known my great uncle Bob Mayo, then on the faculty at Northwestern (Comparative Literature), also one with an interest in James Joyce. In any event, we’re in a world smaller than we know.

    Take good care.

  21. Lisa Friedman

    Sorry for your loss Sam. A beautiful tribute.

  22. Steve Werber

    Mr. Quinones,
    I am very sorry for your loss. Your father led a remarkable life including raising you and your brothers. My blessings of peace to you and your family.

  23. Sylvia Quinones Sierra

    Such love and accomplishments by your father! May you continue to enjoy his rich legacy left behind that enriches our world.

  24. Jim Creechan

    A life well lived. A wonderful remembrance of a man I would have been pleased to know and have as a role model!

    • Ruby Lewis

      Reading this obituary, this man is someone i would have loved to have known. Would love to read his books. Such a great loss for each of you Sam. Find comfort in your memories, and, he made the world a much better place.

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