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Obituary: John Jay Allen — renowned scholar of Cervantes and Spanish theater

Nov. 23, 2020
Category: Obituary

In Memoriam
John Jay Allen

Over a long and fruitful academic career, Jay published seven books, including a scholarly edition of the foundational Spanish novel, Don Quixote, that has been reprinted over 35 times and is taught in universities around the world, and authored dozens of articles on Spanish literature from Cervantes’s time through the 20th century.

He also published foundational books and articles in a second field: the history, literature, and socioeconomic context of theater and playhouses across Europe, particularly in Spain, providing scholarly guidance in the restoration of the Teatro Cervantes, a Spanish theater contemporary with Shakespeare’s Globe.

Jay was born in Wichita, Kansas, to the late Charles McComas Allen and Helen McKee Allen. After graduating from Duke University and serving two years in the Army, he earned a Master’s from the Middlebury College School of Spanish and a Ph.D. from the UW Madison in 1960. For his many professional accomplishments, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Middlebury College in 2008, and in 2015 he was named a member of the Spanish Royal Academy (Real Academia Española), the highest honor in his field.

For four decades, Jay taught as a Spanish professor, first at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and later at at the University of Kentucky, where he was a Kenan Distinguished Professor. After retiring in 2000 he continued publishing scholarly work, presenting at conferences, and advancing literary and theater studies.

Humble, gracious, and kind, he never let his work or his many accolades get in the way of his love for friends and family. On the contrary: his eager interest in learning about others’ passions turned colleagues into dear friends.

Jay is predeceased by his first wife, Tulia Allen; his mother-in-law, Sara Schu; his brother Richard Allen’s partner, Maarten Blom; and his nephew, Jeremy Duncker. He is survived by his wife of 36 years, Patricia Sara Finch; two daughters, Luly Allen Baker (Vaughn Baker) and Leticia Helen Allen (Desmond Duncker); a son, John Patrick Allen; a brother, Richard Charles Allen; and two grandchildren, William Gregory Wigger and Rachel Helen McDonough.

Honorary pallbearers at Jay’s simple graveside ceremony were Richard Allen, John Patrick Allen, Chuck Schu, Gregory Wigger, Don Ablah, Brian Cooney, Howard Mancing, and Desmond Duncker, as well as fellow Wisconsin graduates Joe Jones, Margaret Jones, Dan Reedy, and Eric Naylor.

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