Luis A. Ferré, the former governor of Puerto Rico, died on Oct. 21 from respiratory failure. He was 99.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Ferré traveled to the U.S. to study engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and music at the New England Conservatory of Music. It was during his university years that Ferré developed a passion for the “American way of democracy” and decided to campaign for his country to become the 51st U.S. state.
Known as “Don Luis,” Ferré helped produced Puerto Rico’s constitution and founded the pro-statehood New Progressive Party in 1967. He won the governorship the following year then named the first woman to serve in the cabinet. From 1977 to 1980, Ferré was Senate president.
He and his brothers transformed his father’s cement company in Ponce into a successful industrial enterprise. The company became the source of his family’s wealth, and allowed Ferré to found the city’s library, open the Ponce Museum of Art and purchase the local newspaper, El Dia.
Ferré is one of only four Puerto Ricans to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is survived by his second wife, Tiody de Jesus, and two children. His daughter, Rosario, was a National Book Award finalist in 1995.