His thoughts — Vaya con Dios, Jorge

Published 12:39 pm Thursday, January 5, 2023

It’s been a year now since my dear friend Jorge (aka Dr. Jorge Antonio Silveira y Montes de Oca) passed away at 93 in home hospice care in Hampden-Sydney. On that day, we lost a great man and a great character.

I first met him in November of 1980 when I visited the campus for my job interview. It happened that he knew my dissertation director, Juan Zamora, since they were both Cuban exiles who had been forced to leave the practice of law behind to become Spanish professors in their new world. He was kind enough to overlook the fact that, as I reached for the salt shaker at lunch, my tie dipped into my bowl of onion soup, only one of my special repertoire of non-debonnaire moves.

It was a lot of fun to work with him side by side. I could hear through my office wall (his default volume was somewhat elevated) his annual first day pep talk to the students in Intermediate Spanish.

“I do not accept laziness. If you do not work hard in here, I bust your a$$,” he said.

One year, a tender freshman went crying to his mommy about his mean, scary Spanish professor, and she in turn called the Dean, who invited Jorge in to suggest he try to tone it down the following year. I was listening anxiously that next August, and it was gratifying to hear, “If you do not work hard in here, I bust your neck!”

Overall, his casual speech in Spanish was extremely colorful, and– since this is a family publication– I will leave it at that…His office happy hours with sangria made the monthly faculty meetings considerably more bearable for his colleagues in now-razed Bagby Hall.

One of my favorite memories is jumping in his red pickup to dash to his house during the 15 minutes between classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and have a “cafecito,” a shot of Cuban espresso. It was a drill he had perfected over the years, and we never got back late.

He and his dear wife June were generous and legendary hosts who prepared feasts (not an exaggeration) of Spanish tortilla, paella, and/or whole pigs roasted in his “caja vietnamita” (a sheet metal box with legs and an interior rack for the pig), which required ongoing overnight supervision to replenish the charcoal that was piled on the lid to radiate heat downward evenly. I have never had better roast pork anywhere. Period.

I felt lucky that my family could join in for his banquets with his peer group of distinguished Farmville Latino friends including doctors from Spain and Colombia. Everything would go swimmingly until someone mentioned Fidel; then his face would redden and the veins in his neck would pop out and the imprecations would flow freely…I don’t blame him. He was elated when Castro died, but did regret that Fidel didn’t live long enough to rely on Depends.

He was a family man, very proud of his children and grandchildren and eager to provide updates on their careers and accomplishments. His aged and widowed mother Luz lived with him for decades as he could not even imagine any alternative.

He was a staunch American patriot, deeply appreciative of the opportunities America had provided him. Generations of alumni sought him out at Homecoming, and many stayed fast friends over the decades. On one occasion, a disgruntled student accused him of giving A’s to all his friends; his immediate and deadly serious retort was, “No, you’ve got it backwards: you have to make an A to be my friend!”

Though I saw him infrequently after moving to North Carolina, we remained close friends. He left me his fancy propane-fueled outdoor paella cooker and a bottle of his favorite Biltmore red. I will always miss him.

Mike Wilson is a former Hampden-Sydney Spanish professor, who now calls North Carolina home. He can be reached at jmwilson@catawba.edu.