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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in
Vol. 9 No. 5 (Nov. 1926), pp306‑308

The text is in the public domain.

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 p306  Obituary
Guillermo A. Sherwell

On July 7, 1926, after a long and painful illness Dr. Guillermo Antonio Sherwell passed away. He was born in Paraje Nuevo, Vera Cruz, Mexico, June 5, 1878, the son of a Virginian of old English stock and a distinguished Mexican lady whose ancestors from Spain settled in Mexico soon after the Conquest. He and his brother Luís were registered by their father at the American Consulate in Córdoba as citizens of the United States. The young man of Spanish and North American blood was educated in the schools of Orizaba and the National University of Mexico. He was a brilliant student and in time took his degree of Doctor of Philosophy in that university. He was also a close student of law, especially in its international aspects, and this equipped him for the singular work he later accomplished in the United States. But the educational field early had a very strong appeal for him and his rise therein was remarkably rapid. Dr. Sherwell became professor of Psychology and the Science of Education in the normal schools of Jalapa, later professor of Spanish Literature and Dean of the Instituto de segunda enseñanza of Jalapa, then Director of the grammar and normal schools of Mexico City, and finally President of the Council of Education of the whole country.

He, like many other intellectual and idealistic Mexicans, found life difficult in revolutionary days. He was once arrested by Carranza troops and condemned to be shot. Through the aid of friends he was spirited away from prison the night before what was to be his final daybreak and managed to make his way to the border and into the United States.

Then began his notable career in this country in which he had never relinquished his citizen­ship. He taught in various institutions and finally became a teacher of Spanish in the Bay Ridge and New Utrecht High Schools of Greater New York, and was licensed as a First Assistant in Modern Languages, when in 1918 he accepted a call from the Inter-American High Commission of Washington to a post from which he rose to be in a short time the Secretary General. During the same period he was Professor of Spanish in the College of Georgetown University and head of the Spanish Department in the School of Foreign Service (organized in 1919) of that institution, a work for which he was admirably fitted and upon which he left the stamp of his remarkable genius for organization and teaching. Few knew as well as he, and none better, the problems of international relations between the United States and Pan‑American countries, and none could prepare youth to handle such problems as could he.

So marked was Dr. Sherwell's diplomatic skill and his wide knowledge in such matters that he became a kind of ex officio and traveling ambassador of the United States to Spanish America. He was sent on many delicate missions to Spanish-American countries by the State Department at Washington. He  p307 accompanied three cabinet officers on official visits to those countries, Secretary McAdoo of the Treasury, and Secretaries of State Colby and Hughes. He attended about a dozen Pan‑American gatherings at Washington, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, and Lima. He lectured in many Spanish-American universities, at the Institute of Politics in Williamstown, and at Pan‑American Conferences. He was an authority in many international questions. His command of Spanish and English in equal degree made him especially helpful in gatherings where Anglo-Saxons and Spanish-Americans met. He spared himself not at all in his arduous duties, and his last official task was in connection with the reception of the Spanish-American journalists, though he was at that time a very ill man.

As a writer he distinguished himself as author of a history of Mexico in two volumes (in Spanish), a book of "Poesias," a life of Simón Bolívar and a volume on Antonio José de Sucre (both in English),​a and a large number of historical, biographical, and literary articles and monographs. He edited all the technical legal reports of the Inter‑American High Commission.

Dr. Sherwell was a charter member of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish, a member of the Cosmos Club of Washington, the Catholic Club of New York, the Venezuelan Academy of History, the Ateneo of Lima, the Museo Social of Buenos Aires, the American Academy of Political Science, a corresponding member of the Hispanic Society of America, a member of the Pan‑American Society of the United States, the American Historical Association, the Catholic Historical Association, the National Education Association, corresponding member of Royal Academies of History, Literature and Political Law of Spain, and of the Kappa Alpha Phi Fraternity of Georgetown University. The Venezuelan government bestowed upon him the highest rank of the Order of the Liberator.

In 1896 he married a Mexican lady of excellent family, Doña Luisa Velázquez. He is survived by two unmarried daughters, a son, William, and a brother, Luís, who is a teacher of Spanish in the Stuyvesant High School of New York City.

Funeral services were held at St. Matthew's Catholic Church of Washington by the Rev. Edmund J. Walsh, S. J., Vice-president of Georgetown University, whose eulogy of Dr. Sherwell was most eloquent and impressive. They were attended by high officials of our government and of Spanish-American governments, among them Minister Gresanti of Venezuela. Hon. Herbert Hoover, Secretary of Commerce and President of the Inter‑American High Commission, Dr. L. S. Rowe, Director of the Pan‑American Union, the entire Spanish-American diplomatic corps, a body of students from Georgetown University, and hundreds of his many friends.

Thus are told the simple facts about the life and death of Guillermo Sherwell, which make a record of which his friends and relatives may feel proud. But Dr. Sherwell cared nothing about a record. His only thought was to serve. He was the most unselfish man whom it has been my good fortune to know. The fire of his zeal to make North America and South America better known to each other, to make them indeed close friends, was inspiring to behold and to ponder on. His courage was unfaltering; his  p308 modesty was genuine; he was an humble man at heart, one who sought the best in others and gave his own best to them; who thought fast and moved with circumspection; whose courtesy and consideration for others constituted a rare charm — a mixture of Spanish urbanity and Yankee kindliness. He was a man marked by simplicity, dignity, deep religious feeling, and utter loyalty to his friends.

Well do I recall his participation in the organization of the society of Spanish teachers on October 21, 1916, in New York City, a group of thirty‑one men and women, which that day formed the nucleus of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish. I was presiding as temporary chairman. In the discussion of plans which arose I noticed that a rather tall man of distinguished appearance asked for the floor at different times and made most apt and helpful remarks. He attracted me by his manner and his intelligence. We became friends after that meeting and remained close friends thereafter. And in the work begun that day, a work which daily grew and is still growing — propagation of the study of Spanish in the United States under the leader­ship of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish — Guillermo Sherwell had the deepest interest to the very last. Less than a month before he died I had a letter from him expressive of his continued interest in the Association's work. The dignity and at the same time the enthusiasm of the man, then ill indeed, shone forth as they always had in all our many relations with each other. It is well that it go on the record that none of our charter members was more hopeful, more helpful, more forceful than he in those early trying days of the Association. At different times he was President of the New York Chapter, Vice-president of the National Association and always ready with his wise advice to those members of officers who sought it. Not only is the loss of Guillermo Sherwell a sad blow to the Inter‑American High Commission and the State Department and, therefore, to the best interests of the United States in its relations with Spanish America, but it is an especially heavy blow to our beloved society, the American Association of Teachers of Spanish.

He was a superb gentleman. He died while a comparatively young man, when his greatest work lay yet before him. But I believe he must have felt in his last moments what was expressed so well by Gutiérrez Nájera, that exceptional poet of the country in which he was reared and which he loved so much:

Morir cuando la luz triste retira

Sus áureas redes de la onda verde

Y ser como ese sol que lento expira :

Algo muy luminoso que se pierde.

Morir y joven: antes que destruya

El tiempo aleve la gentil corona ;

Cuando la vida dice aún : soy tuya,

¡ Aunque sepamos bien que nos traiciona !

Lawrence A. Wilkins

New York City

Thayer's Note:

a Dr. Sherwell's biography of Sucre is onsite in full: Antonio José de Sucre (Washington, Press of Byron S. Adams, 1924).

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