Friday, December 14, on the eve of his 65th birthday, on the last day of the fall semester, Southwestern College English professor Philip Lopez suffered a heart attack and died.
Many people consider Lopez an institution unto himself at the campus; he began teaching English as an adjunct instructor in 1973. As an English professor in a program called the Puente Project, he inspired students who often came from households where no family member held a college degree to pursue higher education.
Lopez was a staunch union member and on Friday had completed a long day of negotiations. He had been a political activist all of his adult life.
His broad outlook on the world was colored by his life experiences. He was bilingual. With his former wife Kathleen Canny Lopez, he taught one year in Shanghai, China, and resided another year in Venezuela.
More recently, Lopez made San Diego headlines when he was suspended from Southwestern. In October 2009, Lopez and three other Southwestern professors — Andrew Rempt, Dinorah Guadiana-Costa, and Janet Mazzarella — were furloughed for their alleged involvement with a student protest. Students were demonstrating against the college’s proposed course cuts for the spring semester. The case evolved into a successful fight for freedom of speech on campus.
At the time of the suspension, Raj Chopra was the superintendent of the college and Nicholas Alioto was the vice president of business and finances. Chopra and Alioto resigned within months of the incident. Subsequently, Alioto has been charged by the San Diego district attorney’s office with several felonies and a misdemeanor.
Besides being a renowned fisherman (by his own account), Lopez was also a musician and writer. He had been looking forward to more leisure time when he planned to write a history of the campus and the decades-long struggle against corruption.
At a memorial gathering on December 15, a commonly reiterated compliment was that Lopez could hold his own in any argument, but never held a grudge.
Video of Lopez in 2009: