When Marlena Hobson remembers her relationship with Ivy Arbulú, she thinks about the day-to-night gatherings of international friends at the cabin near Scottsville that Arbulú shared with her husband. At the same time, she recalls Arbulú’s high standards in the classroom as associate professor of Spanish at Mary Baldwin College.
“She was an amazingly wonderful friend,” said Hobson, associate professor of art history. “She was fearless.”
Arbulú passed away May 13 after a long and courageous battle with leukemia. She was 53 years old.
A native of Perú and scholar of Spanish-language literature, Arbulú was a valued member of the college faculty since 1995. She served, at various times, as chair of the Status of Women Committee; the Educational Policy Committee, and the Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. She led May Term study abroad trips to Perú, Argentina, and Mexico. She was also instrumental in developing Mary Baldwin’s Latino Culture Gateway.
Hobson recalls a time when she and her students prepared for a recent May Term trip to El Salvador in which Arbulú could not participate because she was receiving medical treatment. Normally, Arbulú would spend several days on campus with the group, providing intensive Spanish language lessons. Hobson said Arbulú instead Skyped with the group from the hospital while receiving chemotherapy, maintaining her high standards — even for fellow faculty.
“She always gave homework, and scolded me one time for not completing it. I was terrified. It was hilarious,” Hobson recalled with laughter.
“Ivy was the first professor of my first class on my first day at MBC. She scared me!” recalled Liz Barrows ’02, who posted her thoughts on the college’s Facebook page. “But it was through the years that I realized the reason she scared me was because I had never met a woman so strong and dedicated to the success of her students. She accepted nothing less than 100 percent from me.”
Anita Blanco ’96 also shared her memories of Arbulú’s influence.
“Profesora Arbulú was my first role model of a Latina professional,” Blanco wrote. “Coming from a low-income background and being the first in my family to graduate college, I saw in her what I could someday be. She was quick to call you out if she felt you were being lazy or could do better.”
Arbulú completed her college education in literature with a minor in linguistics at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. She completed her MA and PhD at the University of Virginia (UVa). She was interested in two main areas of Spanish language literature — Spanish Golden Age poetry and prose and modern Latin-American fiction.
In recent years, Professor Arbulú studied Arabic, hoping to be able to read medieval Andalusian poetry written in Arabic. She enjoyed reading, going to the movies, walking with her dogs, and traveling to her native Perú.
She is survived by her husband, Jorge Secada, a philosophy professor at UVa.
“Mary Baldwin College was fortunate to count Dr. Arbulú as one of our own,” wrote MBC President Pamela Fox in an email to the college community. “Her commitment to excellence in both teaching and scholarship, her matter-of-fact competence, quick intelligence, quiet warmth, and genuine concern for others will be very greatly missed.”