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Following Her Heart
After earning a B.A. in 1953 and an M.A. in 1954 from UF in Romance languages and literatures, O’Connor decided to pursue a Ph.D. in the same subject and focus her dissertation on Spanish women dramatists. But when she informed her faculty advisor of her intentions, he told her there were no women dramatists in Spain and encouraged her to focus on the works of Gregorio Martinez Sierra, an important playwright whose scripts featured strong female leads. It was rumored in theater circles that Gregorio’s wife, Maria—a well-known feminist elected to Parliament—had perhaps offered advice on the development of the female characters. Later, a discovery by O’Connor would turn this theory on its head.
“I began reading the plays, and the more I read, the more I thought they were not written by a guy,” she said. “The critics of those days, all men, didn’t share my position and cited some convincing circumstances: Gregorio had left Maria for a beautiful actress in his theater company who had made her reputation starring in those strong-women roles. No way, they said, would a feminist write for a cad like Gregorio, and she certainly wouldn’t want to make his lover a star. But truth can be stranger than fiction, and I’m stubborn.”
O’Connor completed her dissertation in 1962 on the portrayal of women in Gregorio’s plays, but maintained a strong suspicion that Maria had been involved in the writing of them. O’Connor met a niece of Maria’s who suspected her aunt had written some of the female dialogue, but could never get a definitive answer from her aunt on the matter. Following Maria’s death, a steamer trunk containing her belongs was shipped to the family in Madrid and O’Connor was invited to examine the unexplored contents.
“At the bottom of that trunk there were 144 letters from Gregorio that documented absolutely Maria’s authorship,” said O’Connor. “She had not been just an adviser, she was the author of most of the plays!”
With a discovery like this early in her career, it is not surprising that O’Connor has become a very successful academic. As the Charles Phelps Taft Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures of the University of Cincinnati, she specializes in contemporary Spanish theater and has authored 16 books—with another currently in press—and more than 100 research articles.
O’Connor is founding editor of Estreno, a journal that explores contemporary issues in theatre, and has been inducted into the Royal Spanish Academy of Language, the institution responsible for deciding the official orthodoxy of the Spanish language. The girl who originally learned Spanish so she could flirt with Cuban boys also learned French, Italian, Latin and Portuguese—and can even speak a little Russian. On February 3, she was one of seven CLAS graduates honored with an Outstanding Alumni Award and served as keynote speaker during a special luncheon held on campus.
“The major seeds of my career were sown right here,” she told the audience. “I learned a lot about the man’s world. When I arrived the student body was overwhelmingly male, and I had no female professors. As a graduate student in the M.A. and Ph.D. programs, I was one of only two women. But I wanted to think outside the box and not believe everything I was told—and my attitude was accepted, even encouraged. The university influenced my life in so many positive ways and helped make my professional work fun.”
“I began taking photos instantly, soon after I arrived in Florida,” said Ward, who moved to Miami from Huntsville, Alabama at age 13. “My dad and I set up a darkroom in the kitchen so we could process and print the photos we took. I thought it was absolute magic watching an image form on paper.”
Ward’s debate teacher at Coral Gables High School, K. Werner Dickson, then sealed his fate. “Mr. Dickson did something unprecedented,” said Ward. “He had a big 4x5 camera he had bought in Europe. He told me I needed something better than my point-and-shoot, so he gave me his camera for as long as I needed. I started taking photos for the school yearbook and newspaper. In the process, I became a photographer.”
Dickson eventually gave Ward the fancy Speed Graphic camera, which he put to good use. Ward worked his way through college at UF by snapping photos for the yearbook, the Orange Peel, and The Independent Florida Alligator. After earning a B.A. in political science in 1957 and an M.A. in journalism in 1959, Ward first tried his hand at TV production and then teaching at a community college—but neither fit. So in 1962 he became a freelance photographer for New York’s Black Star agency and never looked back.
Among the many historical photos Ward has contributed to society, he captured some of the more famous ones early in his career while covering the Kennedy administration. He is responsible for the classic image of a pensive President Kennedy in his rocking chair taken in the Oval Office two weeks before his death. And he took the famous Life magazine cover shot of Jackie Kennedy and children watching JFK’s casket being moved from the White House following his assassination. Ward would also become one of the last to photograph Martin Luther King, Jr. alive, and once again, Life featured his portrait of King on the cover of the issue commemorating his death.
Ward then embarked on a 30-year career traveling the world as a freelance writer-photographer for National Geographic. He published a landmark story on the diamond industry in 1979, which was greeted so enthusiastically by readers that he turned it into a series on gemstones. Actress Elizabeth Taylor agreed to model her jewelry collection whenever Ward asked, and he found the star to be one of his most delightful subjects. “She was a pleasure to work with—and the only person in my experience who never blinked when the flash went off!”
Intrigued by jewels, Ward began transforming the gem stories he had written for National Geographic into the Fred Ward Gem Book Series. Having published seven gem books, he is now working on an eighth, which features gems that exhibit optical phenomena, such as cat’s eyes and stars.
Ward was honored by UF with a Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1985 and was named to the Hall of Fame of The Independent Florida Alligator in 2000. He is married to college sweetheart Charlotte Anne Mayes (B.S., English, 1958). They have raised four artistic children: music composer Christopher, actress Lolly, web and graphic artist David, and fashion designer Kim. They also have three grandchildren.