Professor Emeritus José Mas, who taught in the Department of International Languages, Literatures, and Cultures for 20 years, passed away November 27. He was 96.
Born April 4, 1924, in Havana, Mas was raised in Cuba, attended El Colegio de La Salle, and later graduated from the Universidad de La Habana with a doctorate of law. He practiced law in Havana from the late 1940s until he left the island in the early 1960s, continuing his education at University of California, Los Angeles, where he earned his PhD.
Mas was hired at Chico State in 1972 in what was then the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, where he would teach for two decades and eventually serve as chair. He was known for his warm and kind personality, deep intellect, and humanity, as well as a spirit of wisdom and love that would characterize his life until the very end, said Ileana Gantt (Spanish, ’76; MA, Special Major, ’86), one of his former students.
Mas was an exceptional listener with a genuine interest in people and who would rather ask questions than voice an opinion, Gantt said. In the classroom, he instilled in his students a sense of appreciation, interest, and curiosity, and modeled superb teaching that inspired many to pursue careers in education.
“Other students of his who also chose careers as educators would agree with me when I say that José believed in us before we believed in ourselves. He inculcated the concept of lifelong learning, trusting us to keep moving ahead,” said Gantt, a professor of Spanish and chair of the World Languages Department at Butte College. “He gave us the foundation needed in order to strive for excellence and carry on his legacy.”
While his contributions as a professor, writer, and scholar are numerous and well known, and his professional excellence valued by colleagues and students alike, it was the friendship and relationship as colleagues that Gantt and Mas developed over 40 years that resonate most deeply with her. Gantt especially remembers him for his encouragement early in her career.
“When I had to do simultaneous interpreting for witnesses in a murder trial for the first time, I was very nervous and uncertain about my skills,” Gantt recalled. “I’ll never forget walking into the courtroom, somewhat shaky, then looking up and seeing José sitting in the first row! What a relief I felt! The moral support he provided was exactly what I needed that day. His smile and gentle nods sustained me as I faced a very challenging interpreting job. José had shown up for me, and he would continue to do so. I could count on it.”
Sarah Anderson (Spanish, ’92; Credential, ’94), a professor of Spanish and Latin American studies at Chico State, said Mas was a professor, mentor, and friend to her as well, encouraging her to pursue graduate school after she took her first Latin American literature class with him.
“He was an amazing professor,” she said. “He loved teaching and was so passionate about Latin American literature—his eyes would light up and his whole face would smile as he lectured.”
During one Latin American culture class, Mas assigned the students to find something culture-related to demonstrate. Anderson and her partner learned the tango and taught it to their classmates.
“Dr. Mas was so excited and was clapping and almost hollering with emotion as we performed the tango to the class,” she said. “The joy and excitement he brought to the classroom made him a very beloved professor by his students. Dr. Mas inspired me to learn, to teach, and to love what I do. I will always be grateful for the role he played in my life.”
After retiring in 1992, Mas enjoyed many years of traveling, went to the gym almost daily, and visited as often as he could with his grandchildren. When he was 80, he walked the Camino de Santiago, the famed pilgrimage route in northern Spain from O Cebreiro to Santiago de Compostela, near where his mother was born.
He is survived by his wife, Mercy, son Joe, daughter Gloria, four granddaughters, and four great-grandchildren.
The University flag will be lowered Wednesday, December 9, in his honor. We will share service details when we learn of them.