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Sunday, December 21, 2014

'He always had a smile for me'

PressConference
By Sean Gordon / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Gail Houston, chair of the English department chokes back tears when talking about her colleague, Hector Torres. Torres was killed along with his girlfriend Stephania Gray, a graduate student, in his home on Sunday.

The UNM community is mourning the loss of two colleagues, professor Hector Torres and graduate student Stefania Gray, who were found murdered at a residence near campus on Monday.

The two were considering getting married, according to friend Travis Parkin.

TorresMemorial

Friends of Hector Torres left candles and other items at a memorial on his front porch on Santa Monica Avenue.

By Sean Gordon / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Torres worked as a faculty member at UNM since 1986. His humor and smile made Torres a popular figure within the department, said Gail Houston, chairwoman of the English department who had an office across from Torres for six years.

“He always had a smile for me. He was always there to listen,” Houston said. “Either he was working away on his computer, on his books or articles or he always had students. He was so brilliant, and they wanted to get everything out of him they could.”

In a news release, President David Schmidly and Provost Suzanne Ortega said, “Professor Hector Torres will be remembered as a scholar of great passion, dedication and kindness. Graduate student Stefania Gray was a scholar of great promise. Both were wonderful individuals and we join their families and many friends in great sadness.”

GPSA President Lissa Knudsen offered a statement giving condolences on behalf of the graduate student governing body.

“Stefania’s passage is a loss to the entire graduate student community at UNM,” Knudsen said. “I am deeply saddened by this act of senseless violence. Our organization is here to support all of our members as they cope with this tragedy, especially those in the foreign languages and literatures department.”

Torres, who taught courses in Chicana and Chicano literature, was a passionate deconstructionist and gave instruction on writing about film. However, his most dominant feature was the upbeat personality he brought to his profession.

“My last memories of him were seeing him smile,” Houston said. “We were at a faculty meeting, and he had to leave early and I was making a joke with him asking if he was mad at me, and he turned that brilliant smile to me as he was leaving.”

Houston said she would like to memorialize Torres with a scholarship and a moment of silence at this year’s graduation ceremony.

“Hector was many-sided; he knew people in very different ways and had strong relationships with people in many different sectors,” she said. “You didn’t feel judged when you were with him.”

Every Tuesday and Thursday for four years, Paul Ingles played basketball with Torres. Ingles said when he walked onto Johnson Center court Tuesday for a bi-weekly basketball game, he was the last player on the court to hear the tragic news.

“Some guys were not sure if we should play or not,” Ingles said. “But we felt Hector would have wanted us to continue playing.”

Torres was known on the basketball court for his rainbow jump shot and a wild hook shot that he would hit frequently.

“I judge people on how they play the game. He would never complain on the court,” Ingles said. “He was always gracious. When you passed him the ball, he made the shot.”

Parkin was a neighbor who would share a shot of tequila at the end of each work week with Torres. The two would talk about their plans for the weekend and bonded over conversations about life while laughing at each other’s jokes.

“Hector loved Tex-Mex music,” Parkins said. “On my KUNM radio show on Thursday, I’m going to close out the show by playing his favorite song, ‘Adis Muchachos’ by Los Panchos.”

Gray was a graduate student of comparative literature in the department of foreign languages and literatures and taught ninth grade English at Bernalillo High School. She was preparing to defend her thesis, “Dreams of Andalusia: Women, Gender, Memory and Nation,” after spring break.

She received her bachelor’s in Spanish and Portuguese and began working on her master’s thesis this semester while working full time.

Her assistant professor, Raji Vallury, who will read Gray’s thesis, remembers her as “vibrant, beautiful, and strong.”

Natasha Kolchevska, the foreign languages and literature chair, said her department is considering rewarding Gray her master’s degree posthumously. They also plan to bind a copy of her thesis and give it to her family. They also plan to post information about Gray on the department’s Web site, where friends and colleagues can leave comments.

“My faculty that worked with her thought highly of her. She struck me as a very warm, wise and motivated woman,” Kolchevska said.

Students and staff are preparing for memorials — some private, others open to the public.

Houston is trying to find light in this dark situation.

“Somebody told me Hector sent them a little note in Spanish that said, ‘There is nothing so awful that you can’t find good in it,’” she said. “That’s what he would be saying right now.”

APD released Torres’ and Gray’s names midday Tuesday.

Ralph Montoya, 37, is being charged with two counts of murder in connection with the couple’s death. He turned himself in Monday.