Ana Maria R. Codas, author, activist and former Spanish professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, died Tuesday of complications from pneumonia. She was 86.
Born Ana Maria Recalde, in Asuncion, Paraguay, she was an only child raised by her mother after her father died when she was 7 months old. Those difficult early days helped shape her lifelong commitment to people of modest means and a belief in the power of education, said her husband, Enrique Codas.
After attending the National University in Paraguay, one of her first jobs was as a teacher and principal in a small school in Villarrica, Paraguay, made out of adobe and wood. Later, in the 1940s, she helped build a more modern school.
"She was a born educator; not only in the academic sense, but an educator in life," Mr. Codas said. "She built that school both physically and educationally."
Later, Mrs. Codas taught Spanish literature at a teachers college in Villarrica, where she became known as an activist at a time when Paraguay was ruled by dictator Gen. Alfredo Stroessner. She refused to give a final exam to a student who never attended class, but who was a relative to a government official, Mr. Codas said. She then led the teachers in a strike to protest the issue.
"She was never scared," her husband said. "She ignored the intimidation of the government and stayed true to her beliefs."
She was an idealist and a feminist, who joined a movement of progressives called Catholic Action, where she led a group of women supporting social justice issues, her husband said.
She married Mr. Codas, a fellow scholar, in 1961. Seeking greater intellectual freedom, the couple fled Paraguay in 1967 and moved to Mississippi, where Mr. Codas received a fellowship to study poverty at Mississippi State University.
After a stint in Michigan where the couple both taught at several universities, they moved to Columbia in 1971. Mr. Codas taught in the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Mrs. Codas completed a master's degree in Latin American literature at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she taught for many years.
She was an avid reader, with a love for authors Cervantes, Federico Garcia Lorca and Jorge Luis Borges.
"Ana Maria became so attached and enthusiastic to the authors she was reading," Mr. Codas said. "She was passionate about it."
Mrs. Codas was also a writer, publishing a book of poetry about her love for Paraguay and Latin America, called Tierra y Palabra, or Land and Word.
In Maryland, she combined activism with her Catholic faith, working on a task force for Latin America within the Archdiocese of Baltimore and as vice president of the Hispanic Pastoral Council of Baltimore, where she pushed for the rights of women and immigrants.
"There were no gray areas; it was all or nothing with her," Mr. Codas said. "She was devoted."
Memorial services were held yesterday at the Meeting House at Oakland Mills Interfaith Center in Columbia.
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Codas is survived by a daughter, Maria Hamburger of Silver Spring; a son, Esteban Codas, of Santa Rosa, Calif.; and two grandchildren.