In Memoriam: Dr. Leslie Damasceno

The Duke Romance Studies Department regrets to announce the passing of Emeritus Associate Professor of the Practice Dr. Leslie Damasceno on October 6, 2016.

Dr. Damasceno was instrumental in building the undergraduate program in Portuguese at Duke and offering our graduate students opportunities to incorporate Portuguese and Brazil into their research and training. She closely worked with the department of drama and her research was on Brazilian theatre in particular.

In 1994, Dr. Damasceno was hired as Assistant Professor of the Practice here at Duke. Prior to this she had been working at Princeton University. She became Associate Professor of the Practice in 2000 before ultimately retiring in 2010. Dr. Damasceno attended Agnes Scott College from 1962-1965 where she majored in French and minored in Spanish before receiving her BA from the College of William and Mary in 1966. She completed her MA in 1974 in Comparative Literature from San Francisco State University. In 1987, she received her Ph.D. in Romance Linguistics and Literature from the University of California – Los Angeles where she specialized in Brazilian Literature and Cultural Studies and Spanish American Theatre. She served on numerous committees while at Duke, receiving grants and awards to travel to Brazil for research, and organizing lectures and conferences for our community. She was well liked by students, receiving high marks on her evaluations.

After retiring, she continued to be active in supporting Duke in Brazil students while living in Rio de Janeiro. She will be missed greatly by our department. Below are some more personal words from Dr. Magda Silva, Senior Lecturer in Portuguese who knew Dr. Damasceno well.


Emeritus Professor Leslie Damasceno was a strong woman, a brilliant scholar, and a loyal friend.

She was dearly loved by all who had the good fortune of knowing her and will be deeply missed by her friends and family - her son Gabriel Damasceno, her stepdaughter Madelaine Divine, and her brothers and sisters.

Despite her humble upbringing, Leslie worked her way through college, graduate school, and had a successful and fulfilling academic career. She was an accomplished professor and a loving mother.

I had the privilege of working side by side with Leslie for twelve years, in the Duke Portuguese Program.  I was honored to help her create and implement the original version of the Duke in Brazil Summer Program. Through the years, I witnessed her professional development and personal growth, and I was honored to have her as a friend, confidant, and mentor. Leslie believed in the potential of all students and her passion for teaching inspired her students, myself included, as she was my professor in graduate school. Her profound love for Brazil and knowledge of Brazilian Literature reflected in her classroom. 

Five years ago she retired and moved on to fulfill yet another lifelong dream – to live in Rio de Janeiro.  Leslie maintained her connection with Duke University, by hosting Duke in Brazil students. Leslie remained active and accepted important projects such as translating major Brazilian plays from Portuguese to English, and directing Educa TV, an online educational channel for classroom use.

Leslie passed away on Thursday, October 6th, 2016. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered at sea, in the Atlantic Ocean.

Magda Silva, PhD

Portuguese Language Program

Director, Duke in Brazil Summer Program