Elena Gascón-Vera


A photo portrait of Elena Gascón-Vera

Elena Gascón-Vera, professor emerita of Spanish, passed away on Aug. 12 in Madrid after a two-year bout with lung cancer. She was 77. Rarely has a colleague made such a difference in terms of our intellectual life and our calling to educate women.

Born and raised in Madrid, Elena came to the U.S. to teach Spanish in Dubuque, Iowa. There, she confirmed her passion for studying literature and culture, as well as teaching. She went on to complete a Ph.D., her second, at Yale. The first was from the Universidad Complutense in Madrid. Then she came to Wellesley, and the rest is history.

Elena enriched the College not only through her teaching and research, but also by inviting some of the most prominent emerging figures in the Hispanic world to be visiting instructors.

Part of Elena’s ability to identify rising talent was due to her pivotal role in cultivating the arts in Spain after the restoration of democracy. Elena and her identical twin, Paloma, were famous for their artistic salons. Pedro Almodóvar, the Oscar-winning filmmaker, made some of his first movies in their home with a Super 8 camera while he was still working as a telephone operator. Their annual birthday party on Dec. 21 was de rigueur for the artistic world of Spain. And at these gatherings, they always served two American Butterball turkeys, which Elena carried with her in her luggage when she flew home at the end of the fall semester.

Elena authored books and over 90 articles on the Spanish Middle Ages, as well as on contemporary film and feminism. What marks her works is the depth of insight and the sheer freedom afforded by a brilliant mind. She was devoted to the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program and was always one to build community. For, in addition to her brilliant mind, Elena had an equally high-voltage heart.

After her retirement in 2016, Elena lived primarily in Madrid. Her final years were marked by the same enthusiasm for travel that had always been central in her life. Elena once explained that there are three periods in which you live most intensely: 1. When you are very young, 2. When you are in love, and 3. When you travel.

Elena is survived by her spouse and partner of 25 years, Kaaren Parma; her sister, Paloma; her niece, Beatriz; her nephew, Pablo; and their children.

By Carlos Alberto Vega, professor of Spanish

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