Today let us celebrate the life of a man who transcended beyond the ordinary and made his ideals into a lasting movement for statehood in Puerto Rico. Luis A. Ferré should be remembered as a true visionary whose whole purpose was to serve Puerto Ricans. Ferré, through his amazing life, became a citizen to emulate and a statehooder like no other. We should all study Ferré’s life and follow his path for a better Puerto Rico.
As members of the Puerto Rico Statehood Students Association (PRSSA), have the opportunity to teach others of the importance of being part of the United States of America. Therefore, we should promulgate statehood, which is the only solution that brings better social and economic development, true sovereignty and dignity for Puerto Rico.
Luis A. Ferré
Luis Alberto Ferré Aguayo (February 17, 1904 – October 21, 2003) was a Puerto Rican engineer, industrialist, politician, philanthropist, and a patron of the arts. He was the third Governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico from 1969 to 1973, and the founding father of the New Progressive Party which advocates for Puerto Rico becoming a state of the United States of America. He is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Luis Alberto Ferré Aguayo was born in the southern city of Ponce, Puerto Rico on February 17, 1904. Ferré’s grandfather was a French engineer that was involved in the construction of the Panama Canal before settling in a residence in Cuba. Ferré’s father, Antonio Ferré, was born in Cuba and immigrated to Puerto Rico where he founded the company Porto Rico Iron Works. In Puerto Rico Antonio met Maria Aguayo Casals, who was a cousin of Spanish cellist Pablo Casals. Antonio and Maria had four sons, Luis, Jose, Carlos and Herman Ferré, and two daughters, Rosario and Isolina Ferré (a Roman Catholic nun).
He studied Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), obtaining his bachelor’s degree in 1924 and masters degree in 1925, and music at the New England Conservatory of Music. During this time, while living in Boston, Ferré developed an admiration for the “American way of democracy
Life as a politician
Ferré became active in politics in the 1940s. He unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Ponce in 1940 and Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in 1948. In 1948, Puerto Ricans were allowed to elect their governor. Luis Muñoz Marín was elected governor of Puerto Rico, and a movement began which aimed to adopt a commonwealth relationship with the United States of America. In 1951, a referendum was held to decided to whether to approve or not the option granted by the United States Congress to draft Puerto Rico’s first constitution. Ferré abstained from participating in the process in which the pro-statehood party to which he belonged favored the 1951 referendum. He believed that the process would mean “an acceptance of a colony and condemn the people to a perpetual condition of second class citizenship”. Still, Ferré would later participate in the constitutional assembly created by the referendum which would draft the constitution. In 1952 the Constitution of Puerto Rico was adopted, creating the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. He was a member of the Constitutional Assembly. That same year Ferré was elected representative in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives. Ferré ran under the Republican Statehood Party (“Partido Estadista Republicano) and officially assumed his duties as representative on January 11, 1953.
In 1967, a plebiscite was held to decide if the people of Puerto Rico desired to become an independent nation, a state of the United States of America or continue the commonwealth relation established in 1952. The majority of Puerto Ricans opted for the Commonwealth option (see Puerto Rican status referendums). Disagreement among the current pro-statehood party led by Miguel A. García Méndez led Ferré and others to found the New Progressive Party or PNP.
In the following general election in 1968 Ferré ran for Governor and defeated Luis Negrón Lopez, the candidate of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) by a slight margin, ending Luis Muñoz Marín’s PPD’s hold on the governor’s seat which lasted 20 years.
His work as governor of Puerto Rico included defending the federal minimum wage and granting workers a Christmas bonus. He visited Puerto Rican troops in Vietnam. In 1970 his first wife, Lorencita, died at La Fortaleza after being bed-ridden for years. Their daughter, Rosario Ferré is an acclaimed novelist and writer.
During his governorship, he paid special attention to youth affairs and bringing young Puerto Ricans into public service. He successfully had the Puerto Rico Constitution amended to lower the voting age to 18, strongly supported the New Progressive Party Youth organization as party president, and appointed then-young statehooders such as Antonio Quiñones Calderon and Francisco “Pompi” Gonzalez to high-level administration jobs, campaigned for a 26-year-old at large House candidate, nominated a future Senate President, teenager Kenneth McClintock as Puerto Rico delegate to the 1971 White House Conference on Youth, and strengthened college scholarship programs.
Before the Congress created the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Ferré had already created Puerto Rico’s Environmental Quality Board, charged with protecting the islands’ environment.
In the elections of 1972 he sought re-election but lost to Rafael Hernández Colón of the PPD by the biggest margin since the PNP’s foundation; the PDP had claimed that many corruption scandals (rather minor compared to similar ones in the various administrations following Ferré’s) had been overlooked by the Ferré administration. A bloody student strike at the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras in 1971 had been neutralized by the Puerto Rican police using brute force, something about which Ferré had mixed feelings. Hernández played the youth card in his campaign (when elected he was the youngest Puerto Rican governor ever). All these issues contributed to a PDP win over Ferré in the election.
Ferré remained active in politics and in 1976, he was elected to the Senate of Puerto Rico. Ferré served as eighth president of the Senate from 1976-1980 and continued serving as senator until 1985. Years after leaving La Fortaleza, he married Tiody De Jesus, a nurse who later became a physician.
After serving as senator, Ferré continued to be active in politics, especially representing the United States Republican Party on the island. Between 1989 and 1991, Ferré served with former Governor Carlos Romero Barceló, former representative Benny Frankie Cerezo, PNP leader Kenneth McClintock and former congressional staffer David Gerken as the New Progressive Party’s negotiating team while Congress considered Puerto Rico political status legislation introduced by Senator J. Bennett Johnston.
Life as a philanthropic and musician
Ferré was also a talented pianist who recorded several albums of his piano music. On January 3, 1959 he founded the Ponce Museum of Art, in his hometown of Ponce. The museum initially displayed 71 paintings from his personal collection and today displays over 3,000 pieces. Among other things, Ferré is credited with having rescued from oblivion the painting “Flaming June” by the Victorian painter Frederic Lord Leighton – purchasing it in 1963, when it was considered “too old fashioned” and getting it prominently displayed at the Ponce Museum of Art.
“El Centro de Bellas Artes”, the center for performing arts in Santurce, Puerto Rico also bears his name, as well as the main highway connecting San Juan and Ponce. He also assisted in the creation of the Casals Festival and the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music. He was a member of Phi Sigma Alpha Fraternity. As a sportsman, Ferré practiced fencing, and is honored annually with the “Campeonato Nacional de Esgrima” in Puerto Rico.
His philanthropic deeds and defense for democracy earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President George H. W. Bush on November 18, 1991.
On September 29, 2003, Ferré was hospitalized with a urinary tract infection and underwent surgery for an intestinal blockage on October 1. While in the hospital he developed pneumonia before finally succumbing to respiratory failure on the morning of October 21, 2003. He was 99 years old, three and a half months shy of his 100th birthday.
His body laid in state in Puerto Rico’s capitol building in San Juan, then transported to his museum in Ponce, before being taken for a state funeral and burial nearby. His funeral and ceremonies honoring him were attended by numerous politicians. Former U.S. President and friend, George H. W. Bush, visited his tomb soon after.
Among the numerous awards that were bestowed on Luis A. Ferré was the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an honor which was also subsequently bestowed on his sister Sor Isolina Ferre. The renowned sculptor Tomás Batista was also commissioned to make a bust of Ferré, which is exhibited in the Ponce Museum of Art. Another Tomás Batista bust of him was unveiled by his widow, Tiody, Senate President Kenneth McClintock and Senate Vice President Orlando Parga in February, 2008 at the Senate of Puerto Rico’s Hall of Governors
Carlos E. Ortiz
Director, UPR Arecibo