French Professor Leguillon Dies at 88
Longtime University of St. Thomas faculty member, Dr. Rolande Leguillon, professor emerita of French, passed away on Saturday, March 17, just two weeks after celebrating her 88th birthday. Leguillon taught at the University from 1968 to 2009.
Two events will be held for friends, former students, protégés and fans to gather and share their memories of Leguillon. The University of St. Thomas will hold a gathering of remembrance in her honor at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 31 in the Ahern Room, Crooker Center, 3909 Graustark St. Also, the L’Alliance Française de Houston, an organization in which Leguillon was greatly involved, will host a reception at 6 p.m. on April 17 at 427 Lovett Blvd.
Leguillon received her Baccalaureat-Philosophie from the University of Paris in 1942. In 1966, she earned a bachelor’s from the University of St. Thomas and a master’s in French Literature from the University of Houston. She earned her doctorate in French Literature from Rice University in 1970.
A Passion for Teaching French
Affectionately referred to in French as “Madame,” Leguillon was passionate about teaching. Former students say she challenged them to learn French and improve with each assignment, and many considered her a mentor.
“She would put you to the challenge,” said Angela Gomez ’00, a major in French and International studies. “Nothing was given. You had to earn everything. She gave constructive criticism, and she would give you the ammunition to do better. She was knowledgeable and professional and someone to live up to.”
Jennifer Mengis, MLA ’11, agreed that she was passionate about helping students learn French. After first studying at St. Thomas in 1981, Mengis returned years later hesitant to take classes with Leguillon. “After we met again, she was definitely my mentor,” she said. “We became very close. She made me work harder, to do more and get more out of my education.”
Mengis remembered an advanced French grammar class dealing with poetry, and if the papers weren’t good enough, Leguillon would hand them back to be redone. “She would try to draw some creativity out of people,” Mengis said. “The other students and I were surprised at what we were capable of when we were pushed a little further.”
Fr. Ted Baenziger, CSB, associate professor of French, said his colleague was very professional and personable.
“She was intent on talking to the individual person,” Fr. Baenziger said. “Her classes were intimate and she got to know each person in the class.”
Leguillon was known for holding a poetry contest for students for nearly 20 years, Les Jeux Floraux or The Floral Games. “They were little poesies of poetry that students would recite or read,” Fr. Baenziger said. “She really liked that. At the end of the year, it gave students an opportunity to speak French.”
Fr. Baenziger said in her prime, Leguillon was a formidable woman. “She had very strong opinions, and she was not afraid to tell them.” Fr. Baenziger said.
Maggie González, UST assistant director of human resources and benefits administrator, considered Leguillon a mentor, and González’s four children studied with her.
González said Leguillon was happiest when teaching. “Once we took a final at her house,” González said. “She was sick, but she asked us all to come. We all came with our presentations and laptops, and we all presented in her living room.”
González’s son, Roberto, class of 2009 and now a UST academic advisor, majored in French and received a French Alliance scholarship to travel to France.
“Madame Leguillon gave so much of herself and embraced her students as if they were part of her own family,” Roberto González said. “Speaking on behalf of myself and my family, she was part of the family!”
Service to the Francophone Community
For 50 years, Leguillon was on the board of directors of L’Alliance Française de Houston, an organization that promotes French language and culture, and served as president twice, most recently from 1999-2000.
Joan Patrick, executive director of L’Alliance Française, said Leguillon helped with cultural events at the French Alliance, and gave lectures on popular topics such as Coco Chanel, or more esoteric subjects like the Knights Templar.
“She was rigorous in the intellectual fashion, but also fun-loving,” Patrick said.
Patrick said Leguillon’s specialty was education, and her pet project was organizing the French Alliance’s scholarships to students in Houston’s five universities. Many of her students were able to take advantage of the organization’s scholarships to travel to France.
Bringing French Culture to Life
Friends say Dr. Leguillon was a first-hand witness to D-Day in France during World War II, with Germans and Americans in her yard, hiding in her house.
“She would tell us stories of the war in France, always in French,” Maggie González said. “She would give us more, more of her life and about her, but always in French.”
Patrick said Leguillon traveled to France most summers. Each time, she researched the areas and what to see, and shared that with friends at the Alliance after she returned.
“She was abreast of modern France,” Mengis said. “Although she was older and of a different generation, she was very up on the happenings and cultural events, even though she hadn’t lived in France a long time. It influenced her teaching.”
Roberto González said Leguillon had so many stories and had experienced and lived through so much that she brought the French culture, history and language to life.
“It is because of her inspiration that I now speak French fluently, I have studied in France, and I have traveled back to France several times,” González said. “I will never forget her!”
More about Madame Leguillon
Before she joined the UST faculty, the professor taught at schools in France and at Lamar High School in Houston, where she pioneered the Advanced Placement test in French. At St. Thomas, she has as head of the French Program since 1976, and had served as chair of the Modern Languages Department.
Around 1985, Dr. Leguillon helped re-establish the American Association of Teachers of French, part of a national group of foreign language teachers, of which she was an active member. She has been recognized as Teacher of the Year by the Texas Foreign Language Association and has been honored by the American Association of Teachers of French. She was decorated by the French government in 1995 and awarded the rank of Chevalier in the order of the Palmes Académiques.
Dr. Leguillon was preceded in death by her husband Harry and one son, and is survived by her daughter Cathy Conrad and son Philippe Leguillon.
L’Alliance Française is also accepting gifts to the Leonardon Magne Scholarship fund in honor of Dr. Rolande Leguillon. For more information, contact 713-526-1121.