Elena Fernández Herr died in her apartment in Paris, France on Sunday Jan. 15. She was born in Madrid, Spain on Aug. 14, 1920, the daughter of a jewelry appraiser. Her primary and secondary education was at the liberal Instituto Escuela of Madrid, which moved with its students to Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War.
As Barcelona fell to the forces of General Franco in early 1939, Elena crossed on foot into France with her parents. During the German occupation of France she and her father worked for a woolen factory in Normandy. With help from an American fund, she attended the Sorbonne University in Paris 1944-46, preparing to teach French abroad.
During this period she met Richard Herr, of the U.S. Army. They were married on March 2, 1946 and came to the United States. Together they had two sons, Charles and Winship, and attended the University of Chicago graduate program, where Elena received a Ph.D. in comparative literature in 1970. Her thesis became a book, Les origines de l'Espagne romantique, les récits de voyage 1755-1823.
After living in Connecticut and Berkeley, she and her husband were divorced in 1966 and she returned to Paris to complete her doctoral thesis. Between 1966 and 1973, she taught at the American University of Paris and St. Xavier College in Chicago.
In 1973, she returned to Berkeley to the elegant house which has been her home since then, and from which she made regular trips to Paris and Madrid. She hiked with the Alpine Club and was an early member of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. Those who knew her will not forget her spirit, her warmth, generosity, and strong will, preserving the democratic idealism of the Spanish Republic of the 1930s.
She is survived by her two sons and their families: Charles Fernandez Herr of New York, his wife Betsy and son Dave; and Winship Herr, of Lausanne, Switzerland, his wife Nouria and children Julien and Isabel Elena.
The funeral will be on Wed. Jan. 25 at 11 a.m. at the Fernwood Cemetery, 301 Tennessee Valley Road, Mill Valley. Friends are also invited to celebrate Elena’s life at her home 1731 La Loma Ave., Berkeley, that afternoon at 4 p.m.