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Prof. Hector Mario Cavallari passes away after 30 years at Mills

Professor Cavallari was appreciated by both faculty and students. (Mills College)
Professor Cavallari was appreciated by both faculty and students. (Mills College)

Hector Mario Cavallari, professor and co-chair of the Spanish program, died Sunday, Oct. 27, according to the Dean of Students’ office.

Cavallari, who preferred his middle name “Mario,” came to Mills in the fall of 1986 and quickly developed a reputation as a caring, unwaveringly committed scholar. He had recently been on sabbatical, living in his home country of Argentina, and was expected to retire at the end of this academic year. Former students and long-time colleagues of Cavallari’s expressed shock and grief, but also gratitude at having known him.

Carlota Caulfield, co-chair of the Spanish and Spanish American Studies program, first met Cavallari in 1992 when she interviewed at Mills for her first full-time teaching position after completing graduate school. As writers and academics, both shared a love of Hispanic literature and cinema that endured throughout their 24-year friendship.

“He was a very gentle person, [a] very interesting scholar,” Caulfield said of her friend and colleague. “[He] published a lot about women writers [and] women poets.”

Among these poets was Caulfield herself – Cavallari published a review of Caulfield’s 2001 poetry anthology “Autorretrato en ojo ajeno in the Spanish literary journal Caribe. Beyond their shared interests, the two kept a bi-weekly brunch tradition even through marked changes in their personal and professional lives.

Ken Burke, professor emeritus of film studies, who retired from Mills in 2013, maintained a similar tradition with Cavallari. Burke also knew Professor Cavallari throughout the majority of his tenure at Mills, and the two quickly became friends, bonding over a love of cinema. Eventually, Burke and Cavallari, along with Burke’s wife, developed a standing Friday night tradition wherein they would see a recent film together and later discuss it.

“[Mario] was a strong, solid part of our lives,” Burke said. “I could really appreciate how much he cared about his students, cared about his classes, [and] wanted to make them as interesting and involving as possible.”

In speaking with Cavallari’s students, an image of a conscientious and caring professor begins to take shape. He often kept up with his students long after they had graduated. Monica Esparza ’99 says that, including this past September, Cavallari routinely called her every year on her birthday. Esparza was a biochemistry major when Cavallari encouraged her to take a few courses in the Spanish department.

“He introduced me to such a wonderful world of creative writing, Spanish literature, cinema, music, culture and of course, the beautiful language itself,” Esparza said. “I will miss his friendship, his compassion, his worldly knowledge on so many subjects and levels, and his enthusiasm about everything and everyone in his life.”

An event celebrating Cavallari’s life is currently being coordinated by college Chaplain Dara Olandt, the provost’s office and faculty of the Spanish and Spanish American Studies program.

“Plans are underway for an evening honoring the Life, Memory and Legacy of Professor Cavallari, who has been beloved by so many in our Mills community,” Olandt said.

Information regarding the location and time of this event will be available in the coming weeks. Students in need of support or counseling in response to Cavallari’s passing are encouraged to contact Olandt or Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).