Former Puerto Rico Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón dies at 82
Laid to rest in his hometown, Ponce
On Thursday morning, after months fighting leukemia, former Puerto Rico Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón died alongside his family at 82.
Hernández Colón was a three-term former governor of Puerto Rico (1973-1976 and 1985-1992). He served as Justice secretary (1965-1967) and Senate president (1969-1972), and was president of the Popular Democratic Party for 19 years.
His funeral was held according to instructions left by the former governor.
“Following the instructions given to us regarding his death, we inform the People of Puerto Rico that starting tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. he will lie in state at the Capitol followed by a Holy Mass at the San Juan Cathedral at 12:00 p.m.,” the family’s statement read. “There will be a brief stop after the Mass in front of the Popular Party headquarters. At 6:00 pm. he will lie in state in his Gubernatorial Library in the Ciudad Señorial [Ponce] until 11:00 pm. His wake will continue Saturday from 9:00 a.m. at his the namesake Library and then a Holy Mass will be held in the Cathedral of Ponce at 12:00 p.m. After the Mass, the family will proceed to the cemetery, where the funeral acts will take place,”
Hernández Colón, known as the theorist of the Free Associated State, was diagnosed with leukemia at the end of 2018. After a preliminary diagnosis in Puerto Rico, he moved stateside to confirm the diagnosis and begin treatment. In January, he returned to Puerto Rico but recently relapsed, leading him to be hospitalized in San Juan.
On Tuesday he was discharged and returned to his home in his beloved city of Ponce, where he died with his family.
Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who was testifying in Congress Thursday, tweeted: “Today, with great sadness, we received the news of the death of former Governor Rafael Hernández Colón. Don Rafael was a man who gave his life to the service of Puerto Rico. Beatriz and I share the pain affecting his family at this time.”
Hernández Colón was born in Ponce on Oct. 24, 1936. His father was Rafael Hernández Matos, associate justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, and his mother, Doña Dorinda Colón Clavell.
According to the “History of the Puerto Rico Senate,” he went to elementary school in Ponce; attended high school in Pennsylvania (1953); earned his bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University (1956); and a law degree from the University of Puerto Rico (1959).
Between 1960 and 1962 he was a member of the Public Service Commission, and between 1961 and 1965 he was a lecturer on Civil Procedure at Universidad Católica de Puerto Rico School of Law. In 1965 he was appointed Justice Secretary by Gov. Roberto Sánchez Vilella, but he resigned that post in 1967.
In the general election of 1968 he was elected senator at-large for the Popular Democratic Party and later became the chamber’s president until 1972. That same year, he ran for governor and was elected. Hernández Colón became governor again in 1984, and then in the 1988 elections. He retired from politics in 1992.
In 1969, he became the second president of the Popular Democratic Party. Hernández Colón received numerous honors for his accomplishments as a student, as well as for his involvement in the public and civic life of the country. Among these accolades, he received the Johns Hopkins University Award for best political thesis (“The Commonwealth, Territory, or State”) in 1956. Similarly, he was honored with awards from the Puerto Rico Bar and the West Publishing Company for being the best Civil Law student (1959).
He authored a textbook on civil procedure, as well as the “New Thesis,” a document aimed at the development of autonomist political thought in Puerto Rico.
In the inaugural dissertation that a young Hernández Colón delivered before his fellow senators, are the following lines:
“This Senate will be an impenetrable stronghold, an insurmountable citadel against any onslaught that threatens Puerto Rican heritage. Aside from a defender, the Senate shall simultaneously be a promoter and advocate of everything Puerto Rican, of our language, of our traditions, our culture; not with a sense of narrow nationalism, but with natural and fruitful regard for a people that, tied to another by permanent bonds of common citizenship and democratic understanding, is proud of itself, of its own personality in association, and of the noble and historical nature of its being.”
Hernández Colón also lectured at several universities in Spain and wrote newspaper columns, including a weekly one for Caribbean Business, who was proud to publish his insightful essays.