Eliseo Fernandez, a member of the Linda Hall Library staff for nearly 50 years, passed away on May 13, 2017.
Fernandez migrated from Argentina as a 22-year-old student in 1957 and lived in New York City for five years, before returning to Argentina. Fernandez returned to the United States for good in 1967, this time in Kansas City, and began working at the Linda Hall Library. In addition to his work at the Library, Fernandez served as an adjunct professor for 13 years at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, teaching Foundations of Physical Science. Reference Librarians found more than 50 citations of presentations or research papers Fernandez had written.
“The Linda Hall Library is the grateful beneficiary of Eliseo Fernandez’s years of devoted work,” said Linda Hall Library President Lisa Browar. “His soft-spoken manner belied a powerful intellect that influenced collection development over the years and assisted countless patrons in search of information that was often extremely technical and complicated in nature. We owe Eliseo a debt that cannot be repaid, but we can honor his memory by following the example he set for us all.”
Donna Swischer, who began working with Fernandez in 1975, wrote the following tribute to her former colleague:
On May 13, 2017, the Linda Hall Library lost one of its most valuable resources, not a rare book, but a rare human being, Eliseo Fernandez. Eliseo’s deep intellect, many kindnesses, and warm sense of humor endeared him to his friends and colleagues.
Eliseo began working at the Library in 1967 and, after he retired in 2000, continued working part-time until illness forced him to leave in 2016. Throughout his almost 50 years at the Library, Eliseo served in several capacities, from supervising the stacks, to serving on the reference desk, and helping shape the collection. It is not an overstatement to say that he loved the institution to which he gave so much of his time, energy, and thoughtful consideration.
During his many years as Stacks Supervisor, Eliseo trained and mentored hundreds of pages. His patience and benevolence were inspirational and many pages worked very hard to ensure they never saw a look of pained disappointment on Eliseo’s face – though unknown to him, it was one of his most effective training tools.
Eliseo’s broad knowledge of science and technology was invaluable on the Reference Desk, where he served for most of his years at the Library. Not only was he able to offer extensive help to scientific researchers, he could also be called upon when, for example, one of his colleagues might be having trouble getting a not-so-scientific researcher to understand the physical reasons a perpetual motion machine would be a difficult item upon which to obtain a patent.
In his later years at the Library, Eliseo focused on his bibliographic work, devoting time to examining the collection, helping to make difficult decisions on collection content, then articulating and codifying the reasoning underpinning those decisions.
Not only was Eliseo an important resource for the Library, the Library was an important resource for him. He was a member of the History of Science Society, the Philosophy of Science Association, and the Semiotic Society of America. He actively used the collections to pursue his research and received accolades for his publications on the philosopher Charles S. Peirce and in the field of Biosemiotics. He and his wife, Marcia, who also worked at the Library for a number of years, enjoyed traveling and explored the world as they took advantage of the invitations Eliseo received to speak and present papers at national and international conferences.
As an adjunct professor at UMKC, Eliseo taught Foundations of Physical Sciences for 13 years and teaching was an integral part of Eliseo’s personality. He generously offered to instruct his friends in the art of pasta making, believing that teaching others to cook was a gift that would offer returns to the giver. In fact, Eliseo was quite a skilled chef, as anyone lucky enough to receive a dinner invitation will attest, serving up delectable dishes, often made from ingredients from his flourishing garden. He also traditionally served his coworkers bread that he made from the fruit of the Library’s persimmon tree, as well as other baked delights. Countless hungry artists, students, and friends found themselves fed and nurtured by his generous spirit.
Eliseo was also an accomplished animal portraitist, with a special expertise in “rabbitailia.” He liberally embellished bookmarks and call slips with charming creatures, delighting staff members who stumbled across them. Some colleagues may remember Eliseo’s lecture series, Thinking About Science, presented at the Library in the mid-1980s, wherein rabbits, and in one instance a moose, illustrated all manner of scientific principles.
But Eliseo’s most abiding legacy is the example he set with the life he lived. Brilliant, yet humble. Kind and empathetic. Willing, always, to help wherever needed. Generous of mind and spirit. Delighting in simple pleasures: good food, good wine, good company, his loving family. Eliseo’s death leaves his friends unspeakably saddened by his loss, but filled with joy and gratitude for the gift of his friendship.