Eduardo Chirinos, a Spanish professor at the University of Montana, died Wednesday morning after a five-year battle with cancer, according to Elizabeth Ametsbichler, co-chair of the modern and classical languages and literatures department.
Chirinos would have turned 56 April 4.
In addition to teaching Spanish, literature and poetry, Chirinos was an accomplished poet and author, with over 18 published books of poetry, as well as numerous essays, translations and children’s books. His work has been used in Spanish literature classes at the University.
Eduardo and his wife, Jannine Montauban, moved from Lima, Peru to Missoula and began working as professors at UM in 2000, Ametsbichler said.
Because Jannine’s English was nearly flawless and Eduardo’s wasn’t, the couple functioned as a tight-knit unit, and their keen senses of humor helped them become popular among students and co-workers.
“Being a poet, language was super important to Eduardo and he was in his head a lot, while Jannine is a little bit more practical,” Ametsbichler said. “She would take care of some of the mundane issues of day-to-day living.”
After being diagnosed with stomach cancer in December 2011, Ametsbichler said Eduardo tried various treatments until his doctors said he was cancer free. Unfortunately, the cancer soon appeared elsewhere in the body. Last week, his condition worsened suddenly.
Although Eduardo had not been teaching since before Thanksgiving, Ametsbichler said he was writing poetry until the very end.
“Besides being a poet, he also liked to draw, or doodle,” Ametsbichler said. “Even just sitting in meetings he’d come out with very funny and witty little drawings that kind of captured what the mood of the room was. It was very funny. He was just so kind, just gentle and absolutely a wonderful colleague.”
Laura Weingartner, a UM student minoring in Spanish, had Eduardo as a professor of literature and poetry, and he was one of the best teachers she has ever had, she said.
“Honestly, he was kind of scary but in a good way,” Weingartner said. “He really knew what he was talking about. He would ask you a question then glare at you, and you’d be nervous but it was funny.”
Weingartner said if a student didn’t like Eduardo’s classes, it was never because of his personality, but the level of work and commitment he asked of his students. This, Weingartner said, was balanced with his playful personality.
A classmate of Weingartner’s once wore a Beatles shirt to class, and Eduardo teased her about it every day after.
“He’d always poke fun at you,” Weingartner said. “But it felt like he knew you and it felt like he cared about you.”
There are no funeral plans for Eduardo as of now, and an obituary will be released in the future in celebration of Eduardo Chirinos’ life.