February 28, 2007
Ronald Hilton, professor emeritus of Romance languages, dead at 95
Ronald Hilton, a professor emeritus of Romance languages who shared his passion for international affairs for more than six decades by writing articles, founding journals, starting institutes and organizing conferences, died Feb. 20 at his Stanford home. He was 95.
Hilton's home, which he shared with his wife of 67 years, reflected his interests and travels, displaying collections of ceramic dolls of the presidents of Mexico, replicas of pre-Columbian pottery, folk art from Latin American countries, and memorabilia from the Spanish Civil War.
It was also the place where Hilton, who retired from Stanford in 1976, oversaw the World Association of International Studies, a political, economic and religious online forum that he co-moderated with a professor at a liberal arts college in Michigan.
Last July, the association held a conference at Stanford that tackled a variety of topics, including the history and future of democracy in Iran, moral education in East Asia, China's petroleum concerns and policies, global politics after 9/11, and the future of the United Nations.
Tributes have been pouring into the group's website (http://wais.stanford.edu) since Hilton's death. The association plans to hold a memorial service, but a date has not yet been set.
Hilton, who was born in England, spent much of his early 20s in Spain during the tumultuous and bloody years leading up to the Spanish Civil War.
"I was evacuated [in 1936] during the early days of the civil war, in which some of my best friends were killed on the right or on the left," he once wrote. "I am one of the very few people who lived through the Republican period and who knew most of the leading intellectuals."
Hilton returned to England, where he received a master's degree in 1936 at Oxford University. He moved to California in 1937 after receiving a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship, which allowed him to study for two years at the University of California-Berkeley.
Hilton began his teaching career as at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where he taught modern languages for two years. He joined Stanford's faculty in 1942.
In 1948, Hilton founded the Institute of Hispanic American and Luso-Brazilian Studies at Stanford. The institute published the Hispanic American Report, an independent monthly journal of reports and essays about Spanish-speaking countries.
Bill Ratliff, a fellow and curator of the Americas at the Hoover Institution, said the report filled a critical need at the time for information about Latin American countries.
"Back then, there was very little reporting about Latin America in the general media," said Ratliff, who knew Hilton for 40 years. "There was no Internet. It was hard to get foreign newspapers. It was very hard to learn anything about what was going on in as diverse an area as all of Central and South America in anything like a timely form."
In November 1960, after Hilton returned from a research trip to Guatemala, the Hispanic American Report broke the story about U.S. plans to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro, relying on Cuban exiles trained by the CIA. The failed attempt, which came to be known as the Bay of Pigs invasion, occurred in April 1961.
Ten years later, Hilton, long critical of press coverage of the invasion plans, attributed the media's failure to report the story to arrogance, laziness and indifference.
Hilton suspended publication of the report after he resigned from Stanford's Hispanic American Studies Program in 1964.
In 1965, Hilton founded the California Institute of International Studieslater known as the World Association of International Studiesand began editing and publishing the World Affairs Report, a quarterly featuring commentaries on world events, essays, summaries of news accounts from foreign newspapers, foreign editorial cartoons and book reviews.
In 1983, in an essay that began, "The old order changeth, giving place to new," Hilton announced that the World Affairs Report would become the first journal in any field, and in any language, to appear in its entirety online. At the time, that meant it could be read on 19,000 terminals worldwide on DIALOG, then the largest information retrieval system in the world.
Hilton also edited several books, including the multi-volume Who's Who in Latin America. He also translated The Life of Joachim Nabuco, a biography of Brazil's first ambassador to the United States, from the original Portuguese.
In 1987, Hilton became a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.
In addition to his wife, Hilton is survived by a daughter, Mary Huyck, of Greenwich, Conn., and three grandchildren.