Ernesto C. Alvarez
Born: June 24, 1940
Died: February 1, 2006
Ernesto C. Alvarez was born in San Salvador, El Salvador, son of Enrique Alvarez and the former Carmen Cordova. He prepared for Yale at Escuela Americana in San Salvador and graduated from Hackley School, Tarrytown, New York. Ernesto's family was among the most prominent in El Salvador and owned coffee plantations. He and his family lived part of each year in El Salvador and part in New York City where they resided at the Pierre Hotel.
At Yale Ernie was a resident of Saybrook where he was a member of the Saybrook Players. He belonged to Fence Club and was in the Dramat for 4 years and its treasurer 1960-1962. He was also a member of the board of the Yale Daily News. According to his entry in the Banner, he was a Latin American Studies major.
After graduation he returned to El Salvador where he became at age 26 the youngest Minister of Tourism for his native country and initiated its first tourism industry. He started the International Music Festival which attracted Pablo Casals, Margot Fonteyn and Isaac Stern among many other internationally known performers. He was the founder and president of Amigos del Volcan, a charity dedicated to improving the quality of life for residents of the volcano area adjacent to the capitol city.
Saybrook roommate Peter Perez described Ernesto as "an engaging young man who 'never met a stranger' and made friends quickly." "Ernie," Perez continued, "majored in Spanish and minored in weekends in New York City where he helped El Morocco remain open a few years longer. After graduation he married Ilsa Gomero, a beautiful Salvadoran also from a leading family. The marriage was short-lived."
Ernie was known for his wit and Latin style. Perez and Ernie's Freshman roommate Dave Honneus each separately remembered his stunning arrival in the Fall of 1959, several days after classes had already begun: Ernie pulled into New Haven at the wheel of a brand new robins egg blue Jaguar XK150 convertible, the first to be seen on campus. "It was typical Ernesto," Honneus recalls.
In obituaries in the Palm Beach Post and the New York Times, Ernesto was described as a coffee grower, entrepreneur, patron of the arts and philanthropist. During his life he maintained homes throughout the world and traveled widely. In New York, he was a member of the board of trustees of Casita Maria, Inc., the oldest settlement house serving the Hispanic community in the Bronx and East Harlem. He was also a trustee of the International Rescue Committee.
In New York and Palm Beach he was often pictured in the society pages at balls and fund-raising functions for the charities he loved and supported.
Ernesto again returned to El Salvador after the revolution in the 1980's and resumed his charitable and business activities, living much of each year in San Salvador. In addition to continuing operation of his coffee plantation, he founded and substantially underwrote the construction of a national art gallery, the Museo de Arte Moderno in San Salvador. The museum, for which he served as president, features a permanent collection of international art with a strong emphasis on Latin American artists as well as visiting exhibitions from prominent galleries world-wide. He presided at the opening in 2002. On May 18, 2006, the museum held a special ceremony to celebrate his memory, his leadership in the arts and his remarkable contributions to the welfare of his country. A new addition under construction at Museo is to be called the Ernesto Alvarez-Cordova Wing. Ernesto also founded and led Friends for El Salvador, a charitable enterprise in New York and San Salvador devoted to promoting a positive image for El Salvador in the world community.
Michel Langlais, his partner of 27 years, lauded Ernesto's "enormous social conscience," his concern for health and education in El Salvador and his dedication to the arts. "His dream was to create a center for the arts in San Salvador for all the people of his country and he lived to see the realization of this dream with the Museo."
Ernesto died on February 21, 2006, at his winter residence in Palm Beach of a thoracic aneurism just days before he was scheduled to undergo surgery for this condition. He had successfully survived an earlier aneurism two years before. He was survived by his sister Carmen Elena Alvarez de Avila of San Salvador, his partner Michel Langlais of New York and Paris, 6 nieces and nephews and 13 grandnieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his elder brother Enrique, a leader of the Revolutionary Democratic Front, who was killed by a right wing death squad in the revolution which convulsed El Salvador during the 1970's and 1980's.
A Funeral Mass was celebrated for Ernesto in the Capilla de Montelena, San Salvador and a memorial service was held in New York City.
The Board of Trustees and staff of Casita Maria lamented his passing: "His long time and steadfast devotion to Casita Maria was exemplary. His warmth, wit, and creavity will be sorely missed by all who knew him." His colleagues at Friends for El Salvador described him as "a great gentleman and an even grater friend. We will miss his lively spirit and elegant wit."
Donations may be made in his memory to Friends for El Salvador, 225 E. 73rd Street, New York, NY 10021 or Amigos del Volcan, care of Michel Langlais, 580 Park Avenue, Apartment 5A, New York, NY 10021.