Good Life

Retired Penn State professor receives second knighthood

Robert Lima poses for a portrait while wearing his Knight Commander in the Imperial Hispanic Order of Charles V medal on Monday at his home in State College.
Robert Lima poses for a portrait while wearing his Knight Commander in the Imperial Hispanic Order of Charles V medal on Monday at his home in State College. psheehan@centredaily.com

Here’s the thing about living a long and productive life — it generates a lot of clutter.

Which is not to say that the State College home Robert Lima shares with his wife, Sally, is in disarray. Far from it, actually.

Lima is a professor emeritus of Spanish and comparative literature. He retired from Penn State in 2003 and has spent the intervening years writing and undertaking projects such as recording his poetry at the Library of Congress Hispanic Division.

The words come easiest in the morning, when on a good day he’ll cut a direct path from his bed to an office situated at the bottom of a narrow flight of stairs trailing down to the basement.

“I wake up with something in my head and I come down here,” Lima said.

I wake up with something in my head and I come down here.

Robert Lima

He’s 82 years old now, but still plenty spry, at least enough to navigate the compact maze of shelving, books and art that pave the way toward a desktop computer that really ties the whole room together.

The ratio of available to claimed space is tenuous. It’s packed, not messy, and one gets the sense that the distinction is what’s keeping the whole Jenga tower from toppling over.

“Some day I’m not going to be around, and somebody’s going to have to deal with this stuff,” Lima said.

These days he’s mostly focused on poetry, but there have been and probably always will be other projects vying for his attention, a litany of critical studies, translations and plays.

Lima also travels — most recently to a 15th-century palace fortress in Segovia, Spain, where he was inducted into the Imperial Hispanic Order of Charles V in front of a crowd full of men dressed with tails and women wearing long gowns.

“It was just an amazing experience overall,” Lima said.

He’s been knighted before, too, so that’s not just the thrill of the moment talking.

It was just an amazing experience overall.

Robert Lima

At his retirement party in 2003, Lima found out that a colleague had successfully championed him to be named Knight Commander in the Order of Queen Isabel of Spain by His Majesty King Juan Carlos I.

“That was quite a wonderful surprise, a great moment,” Lima said.

Aspiring knights should be aware that Lima’s path is circuitous and hard to follow. There’s not really a “how-to guide” buried anywhere in this story, just seized opportunities.

He fell into teaching entirely by accident, after the publisher behind his first book pressed him into a surprise interview at Hunter College with only a few hours notice.

“I swear to you I started teaching there and then,” Lima said.

That stroke of good fortune spawned a healthy career, a few adventures and most of the décor in the family library, where everything from the Incan drinking cup to the headdress he received after being initiated into a tribe in Cameroon has been immaculately curated.

The effect is warm and welcoming, yet another crowded room in a house full of them.

“It’s been a good life, and I’ve been very fortunate,” Lima said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

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