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José M. Guevara, novelist, accountant, chess master, dies at 95

José M. Guevara of Lindenhurst died Aug. 12

José M. Guevara of Lindenhurst died Aug. 12 at the age of 95. Credit: Newsday / Martha Guevara

As a young man in Bogotá, Colombia, José M. Guevara wrote a notable romance novel, freelanced stories for El Espectador and drank beer and talked politics with fellow reporter and future Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez. He also beat a ranked master in competition chess.

But as Guevara neared his final days, confiding in his eldest child he'd had a good life, he viewed his notable accomplishments as shouldering the responsibilities of raising four younger sisters after their parents' sudden deaths; finding true love with wife, Connie; making a good life in a new land; and helping each of his four children find their own successes. He'd done all the things, big and small, that a brother does, a husband does, a father does.

That a patriarch does.

"He loved his family, his children, his grandchildren," daughter Martha Guevara, a news editor at Newsday, said this week. "I don't remember him ever really shopping for himself, always for us or for my mom. He'd say, 'Do you need anything? Are you OK?' And at the end he said to me, 'I did everything I needed to do.' He was not afraid to die."

As son Robert Guevara of Baldwin said: "All the years growing up I always thought of my father and seen him as someone who was so supportive, did whatever was best for us so he could provide … His way wasn't always speaking. He was action-oriented. If you're going to say it, do it. If you're going to do it, do it because you mean it."

José Guevara died of apparent heart failure Aug. 12 at a nursing and rehab center in Commack. He was 95.

Born in July 1925, in Bogotá, José Guevara was one of seven children — with two older brothers and four younger sisters. The boys all attended the seminary, the second eldest brother Hernando eventually becoming a monsignor. Though Luis and José pursued secular lives, religion remained important to José Guevara.

Guevara attended Universidad Nacional de Colombia — the National University of Colombia — with Márquez, who was two years his junior, and earned a degree in accounting. In the early 1950s he worked with Márquez while a freelance reporter at El Espectador [The Spectator]

Guevara wrote a novel titled "Pecado de Amor" ["Sin of Love" ], published in Bogotá in 1952 — before his writing career got sidetracked by family tragedies.

First, his father, Pastor, died after being seriously injured as he passed a construction site on his way to work as a teacher. Then his mother, Maria, died suddenly after a medical episode caused by high blood pressure. So Guevara stepped up to provide for his young sisters, eventually taking work as an accountant for Bristol-Myers [now Bristol-Myers Squibb] in Bogotá, daughter Martha said. Later, having immigrated to the United States in 1964, Guevara worked as an accountant for Avon and Hess, where he was in charge of accounting for the company's operations in Libya. He also worked in Uniondale for the Vocational Education and Extension Board of Nassau County.

Guevara met his future wife, Connie Pinzón, in Bogotá after her father had approved him as a chaperon for his elder daughters. Although she was 18 years his junior, the two soon fell in love. Guevara was already in the United States looking after his sister Ines when he proposed to Connie in a letter in 1964. He returned briefly to Bogotá to marry her in 1965, then the two came to the United States, living in Manhattan and Queens before moving to Wantagh and later Baldwin Harbor — finally moving in with daughter Martha in Lindenhurst.

Martha Guevara said her father doted on his children. Knowing she shared his interests in literature, Guevara found a small bookstore in Flushing where he'd stop on paydays to buy books for Martha when she was young, starting with the Nancy Drew series en route to Agatha Christie. He bought watercolor paints for Fernando when his son took an interest in art, taught Robert how to play chess, starting with a chess book about Cuban champion José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera.

"I just remember he had so much patience for me," said daughter Karla Feinberg, of Merrick. "He taught me how to ride a bike, he taught me how to drive a car. He was hands-on. And even though he was an older father he was always super-involved."

Throughout it all, Guevara never lost his love of literature, building a library that included American classics by Henry Miller, John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway, as well as a host of books by notable Colombian and South American authors, daughter Martha said.

His novel "Pecado de Amor," published under his full name José Guevara Castillo, is the story of Canuto Reyes, a father reflecting on his life on the day of his daughter's wedding.

"While the old man kept pacing through the corridor," Guevara wrote in one passage, "the first illusions of love, with the torture of waiting, of the doubt, and the indescribable joy of a look that was returned or a gesture of comprehension, flew to his imagination like shy doves, those memories of his youth."

The novel is cited in Estudios críticos sobre la novela colombiana — Critical Studies on the Colombian Novel — published in 2005 in Medellin.

And an Aug. 8, 1952, review in El Espectador noted of Guevara "we can appreciate the qualities that will ensure his writing career," adding the book paints a "picture of provincial life where all characters appear with their virtues, their ambitions and their ordinary vices . . . José Guevara Castillo has written a novel that signals the rich perspectives of the national literature."

Guevara was predeceased by his six siblings and his wife of 50 years, Connie, who died in November 2015.

He is survived by daughters Martha, of Lindenhurst, and Karla, of Merrick, and her husband, Gabe, and their children Lucas and Micah; sons Fernando, of East Meadow, and Robert, of Baldwin, and his wife, Anna Jean; nephew Gerard Dougherty of Freeport; and two nieces in Colombia.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated Monday at 9:45 a.m. at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lindenhurst with interment to follow at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his name to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

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