‘Great interlocutor’: UC Berkeley rhetoric professor Felipe Gutterriez dies at 71

Photo of rhetoric professor Felipe Gutterriez
Edward McAuley/Courtesy
Felipe Gutterriez, who was a member of the UC Berkeley rhetoric department for 31 years, was a mentor and honors thesis adviser to dozens of undergraduate and graduate students.

UC Berkeley rhetoric professor Felipe Gutterriez died June 26 at 71.

Born in 1949, Gutterriez was a member of the UC Berkeley rhetoric department for 31 years, first as a graduate student and then as a professor. According to many rhetoric faculty who were close to him, Gutterriez had a wide range of intellectual interests and a warm, engaging smile that changed the lives of generations of undergraduate and graduate students.

“He touched the lives of just about every student that came into contact with him,” said campus rhetoric department chair and associate professor Michael Mascuch. “It sounds cliche because everyone says that idiotically, but it was true in his case.”

Campus rhetoric lecturer Nathan Atkinson said Gutterriez taught him how to read as an undergraduate, adding that learning how to appreciate difficult texts is something he has used throughout his career.

According to campus rhetoric professor Marianne Constable, the rhetoric department has three areas of study in which people often specialize in one, but Gutterriez taught courses in each track. Mascuch said Gutterriez was an “extraordinary” teacher who was able to teach courses many other faculty could not have, including all the required undergraduate courses.

“Felipe embodied the best qualities of Berkeley — not just the department or the university, but Berkeley as the place,” Atkinson said. “He was adventurous, but also critical. That Berkeley spirit of being willing to think about anything.”

Gutterriez was also a mentor to many graduate students, as well as the honors thesis adviser to dozens of undergraduate students, including alumnus Ryland Knight.

Knight started a film critic blog in 2004 that he said was improved by his experience in Gutterriez’s classes. Knight said he took one of Gutterriez’s classes every semester, including summer sessions.

According to Knight, Gutterriez was a great mentor to many students who all wanted to make him proud. Gutterriez was also willing to talk to anyone in his office doorway.

“It’s rare in your life to find a person who would go there with you, follow you on whatever path you are walking,” said rhetoric lecturer Michael Dalebout. “It’s that feeling of having an intellectual companion … he was totally there when he was with you.”

Atkinson said he will miss Gutterriez’s smile the most because of the hidden meaning he saw behind it.

Gutterriez had a smile that could convey both seriousness and a sense of amusement about the world “being the way it was,” Constable added.

“Just seeing him get off the elevator produced, between the two of us, a smile that said, ‘Here we are doing what we do,’ ” Mascuch said. “He had a sense of the absurdity of life. I felt that sense of absurdity, that all we had to do was smile at each other to communicate it.”

Gutterriez is survived by his longtime partner Eileen Jones.

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.