Ronald W. Sousa

August 14, 1943 – Santa Cruz, CA
January 5, 2023 – Washington, DC

Ron was a quiet, dedicated person who valued how he spent his time more than his list of accomplishments. Even so, his record of personal and professional achievements is long.

His academic career spanned five decades, included countless publications, and opened up new fields in the study of post-colonial African and Latin American literature. He was deeply passionate about teaching, encouraging and inspiring thousands of students over the years.

A scholarship funded his undergraduate education at the University of California - Berkeley, a rare opportunity for someone who grew up in the working class, immigrant community of 1950s Santa Cruz, California. He went on to get the Ph.D. that began his career as a university professor, eventually holding influential positions at the University of Texas Austin, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of North Carolina Asheville.

But he would, first and foremost, want people to know he was an adoring, caring, and protective husband and father. He saw being Joyce’s husband and being a father to Jonathan and Benjamin as the greatest accomplishments of his extraordinary life.

While attending UC - Berkeley, he met Joyce Burton. The two of them married in 1968 and would remain together for the next 55 years. Their first child, Jonathan, was born in 1972 in Austin, Texas, and Benjamin followed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1974.

Ron loved being a father. He pulled his sons to preschool on a sled during Minnesota winters. He read to them nightly for years, often from books well beyond their years: A Tale of Two Cities, Don Quixote, and Moby Dick. He once gracefully gave a conference presentation with a broken nose after his younger son grew big enough to play aggressive driveway basketball.

His sometimes surprising skill set was a source of comedy for him and others. While he never could figure out how to properly make a bed or fold a towel, he restored the 1880’s home he and Joyce purchased in Minnetonka, Minnesota, from foundation to roof, largely by himself. Ron was an excellent baseball catcher, so much so he considered a professional career; yet the details of washing his children’s hair without tears eluded him.

His handwriting was atrocious; to the point that his colleagues gave him the joking gift of a letter shapes instruction workbook. Nevertheless, he wrote out whole books longhand, only typing them up – with painful, two-finger slowness – on his beloved typewriter once they were done. Frankly, he missed that typewriter the rest of his life.

Ron was very unassuming in person. Apart from loving a good hat, he never cared much about his clothes. He happily wore the same jeans until they would literally fall apart – to the enormous amusement of his mother-in-law, Ruth Burton, when that happened while he was working in a tree in the front yard.

Ron liked joking and wordplay, and enjoyed laughing around the dinner table with his family, which on special occasions included his mother-in-law and father-in-law, Tom Burton, his sister-in-law, Judy Burton, and Ben’s spouse, EB Baumer, all of whom he loved dearly.

An enormously kind man, he felt the world’s injustices keenly and fought his whole life for social equity. His activism and concern for others still serves as a marker for how we can strive to be better human beings. These causes are those he would support:

He is survived by Joyce, Jonathan and Benjamin, by his child-in-law EB, as well as by his sister, Julie Sousa.

We miss him.

Joyce B. Sousa
Jonathan D. Sousa
Benjamin J. Sousa
EB Baumer