William “Memo” Martinez, Jr., the department chair of the modern languages and literatures department, died on Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010 at the age of 49. The cause of his death is not being released at this time.
Martinez was in Valladolid, Spain, renewing Cal Poly’s Valladolid Summer Program when he unexpectedly died.
“Memo was the heart and soul of this department; he was the history,” said Lou Greenberg, administrative support coordinator for the modern languages and literatures department. “It is a great loss for our department, our university.”
“Memo,” as his colleagues called him, is the affectionate, diminutive form of Guillermo, which is Spanish for William, said Kevin Fagan, a professor of Spanish and Italian.
“It’s symbolic that he died where his heart was,” Fagan said. “He favored international education.”
While in his office, Martinez had an open door policy for anyone who visited and he treated faculty and staff equally, Fagan said.
“Very, very rarely would he say come back later,” Fagan said.
With a master’s degree in Spanish-American literature and a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from San Diego State University, Martinez received his doctorate in contemporary Latin American poetry from the University of California, Irvine. He came to Cal Poly in September 1993 to teach Spanish language courses as well as courses in Latin American and Spanish culture, specifically poetry and literature.
“He was one of the architects of getting this department to have a major in modern languages,” Greenberg said.
Martinez was the recipient of the 2001 Cal Poly Distinguished Teaching Award and the 1998 College of Liberal Arts Service Award. He was also one of the founding members of the Chicana Latino Faculty Staff Association and started the Mexican summer language program. He was the faculty adviser for C.U.L.T.U.R.E.S. since 2003.
Debra Valencia-Laver, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said he was a very giving person who had the students’ interests at heart.
“One of the things I appreciated was his willingness to volunteer and be involved with students,” Valencia-Laver said.
The date for his memorial has yet to be set. In lieu of flowers, donations designated “For the W. Martinez, Jr. Memorial Fund” can be sent to the modern languages and literatures department where they will be used to fund Spain study abroad programs. A memorial page and obituary for Martinez can be found on Legacy.com.