In Remembrance: Patricia Cepeda ’77 Died on July 22 2013

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Patricia Cepeda ’77, a Colombian-born Spanish interpreter and the goddaughter of Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez , died July 22 at her home in Washington, DC. She was 57.

The cause was complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Zoila Patricia Cepeda was born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She graduated from Yale in 1977 with a BA in comparative literature. As an undergraduate, Cepeda was active in the Yale Film Society, and she maintained lifelong passions for both literature and cinema.

At Yale, she met her first husband, John O’Leary ’69, ’JD74, who proposed to her on Old Campus. O'Leary served as the mayor of Portland, Maine, in 1980 and 1981. 

Cepeda worked as García Márquez’s personal interpreter for nearly 30 years, facilitating conversations with such political and cultural figures as President Bill Clinton ’73JD, William Styron, Toni Morrison, and Woody Allen.

She also served as chief interpreter and coordinator of interpretation services at the Organization of American States from 2007 to 2012. Prior to 2007, she worked as freelance interpreter in the courtroom setting; at conferences for such organizations as the United Nations, the US Department of State, and the International Development Bank; and for political figures such as Hillary Clinton and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet.

In 1998, O’Leary was named US ambassador to Chile by President Bill Clinton, and the couple moved to Santiago with their two daughters, Alejandra and Gabriela. In 2001, the couple relocated to Washington, DC.

With her husband, Cepeda established the John O’Leary and Patricia Cepeda Fellowship for Study in Latin America at Yale. O’Leary died in 2005, also from complications of ALS.

In 2011, Cepeda married lawyer Kenneth Frankel at their home on Little Diamond Island, Maine.

Cepeda’s survivors include her mother, Teresa Cepeda, of Barranquilla; her husband; and her two daughters, Alejandra Dafoe ’04 and Gabriela O’Leary, also of Washington, DC. She was predeceased by her father, Colombian writer and journalist Álvaro Cepeda Samudio, and by her brother, Pablo Cepeda.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Yale University for the John O'Leary and Patricia Cepeda Fellowship for Study in Latin America and mailed to:

Martha Woodcock
Director of Development
Yale College
PO Box 208241
New Haven, CT 06520-8241

—submitted by the family

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