Florinda Ruiz, Former Director of the Writing Program, Dies at 62 Ruiz, who taught Spanish and writing courses and led the Writing Program at W&L for nine years, brought joy and light to everyone around her.
Florinda Ruiz, former director of the Writing Program and visiting associate professor of writing at Washington and Lee University, died Jan. 31, 2024. She was 62.
Ruiz was born on Nov. 12, 1961, in Guadalajara, Spain. She grew up in the province of Salamanca before moving to Madrid, where she attended high school and the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid. She received her B.A. in classical languages in 1984. She went on to receive both her M.A. (in 1989) and Ph.D. (in 1993) in classical languages from Johns Hopkins University.
Ruiz’s lifelong passion for classical study, Spanish language and teaching led her to teach classics and Spanish at Washington and Lee, after moving with her husband, Mark Rush, W&L’s director of international education and Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Professor of Politics and Law, to Lexington in 1990. In 1993, she took a full-time teaching position in the Foreign Languages Department at Roanoke College, where she retired as associate professor of foreign languages in 2007. At Roanoke, she was honored with the Dean’s Exemplary Teaching Award in 2005-06.
“When she walked into a room, it became brighter, warmer and more joyful,” Rush said. “She was a natural in the classroom and enjoyed the constant interaction with her students. She had a profound appreciation for the beauty of language and strove to instill that same appreciation in her students.”
After working in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from 2010-13 for the sheikh of Sharjah, Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, to translate his memoir into Spanish and serving as a faculty scholar at the American University of Sharjah, Ruiz returned to Lexington and served as director of the Writing Program at W&L from 2014 until her retirement in 2023. As her career evolved, she focused her courses on two of her passions: the immigrant experience and the connection between visual arts, poetry and literature.
Ruiz’s research focused on the transmission of classical Greek and Roman cultures, Spanish Islam, Ekphrasis studies, 20th-century Spanish culture and writing pedagogy. The various strands of her research interests intertwined after her time in the Middle East, when she honed her photography skills and discovered a love of photographing people in the UAE, Asia and Africa. Her study of the impact of Islamic culture on Spain and the effects of the expulsion of Muslims and Jews from Spain in the wake of the reconquest instilled in her a keen sensitivity for the plight of immigrants. Accordingly, through her photography, she sought to document their experiences in the Middle East. The fate of stateless people became a focus of both her teaching and photography. She worked these themes into her courses at W&L and incorporated the use of visual arts to enhance her students’ appreciation for interaction with texts.
Her publications include essays, poems and photographs. These include “Why I Write About War,” in “Collateral Damage: Women Write About War,” edited by Bárbara Mujica; “Human Cries Keep Falling Like Summer Rain,” in “Voices on the Move,” edited by Domnica Radulescu and Roxana Cazan; and “Chapter 3: Islamic Spain After the 13th Century” in “Arabic Heritage in the Post-Abbasid Period,” edited by Imed Nsiri. She published numerous book reviews and translations, including a translation of “Primeras Memorias” by Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, Sharjah. She also proudly served as the voice of Rosetta Stone’s Iberian Spanish in version three (2007) and version four (2010).
An avid traveler, Ruiz’s warm personality and infectious energy allowed her to make lasting friendships during her many trips with family, friends, students and participants in W&L’s Lifelong Learning program. She and Rush enjoyed numerous Lifelong Learning trips together to India, Cuba and Spain. Ruiz also had the wonderful ability to connect with people through her artistry and loved capturing moments of breathtaking beauty through her camera. In 2014, the Williams School hosted Ruiz’s photographic exhibition, “Women Beyond Western Borders,” which chronicled her work in the UAE, Oman, India, Sri Lanka, Jordan, Kenya, Egypt, Nepal and Oman. Her photos still hang in W&L’s Center for Global Learning and the English Department.
A lifelong artist, poet, photographer and jeweler, Ruiz’s cancer diagnosis spurred her to pursue her artistic passions even further, and she engaged with Brushes with Cancer to collaborate with other cancer survivors and artists to produce “Shrine for Renewal,” as part of an interactive, multimedia art exhibit in October 2021 in Philadelphia.
She was particularly active in the Hispanic and immigrant communities and worked closely with HACIENDA of Roanoke to support cultural events and outreach. She volunteered at the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic as a medical translator and traveled across Virginia as a court and legal translator.
Ruiz is survived by Mark Rush, her husband of 36 years; sons, William and Alex; daughter-in-law, Meaghann; granddaughter, Celia; mother, Florinda; brother, Guillermo; and dog, Humphrey.
The family welcomes friends to a celebration of life at 2 p.m. on March 9 at Big Spring Farm. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Rockbridge Area Hospice.