Honoring Alumni Collectors: Bernard J. Flatow, in memoriam

Medina_New World
Pedro de Medina, Libro de grandezas y cosas memorables de España (Seville, 1549) / Flatow DP64 M44 1549 superv’d

This past Saturday, Wilson Library  opened for alumni reunions on campus. And in the Grand Reading Room, a display from the Rare Book Collection demonstrated the diverse collecting interests of UNC graduates.

Among the titles exhibited was an early geographical and historical guidebook to Spain (left). Written for the young prince who would become King Philip II, the volume also includes information on Spain’s exploration of the New World. The RBC’s copy came to UNC in 1985 as part of the Bernard J. Flatow Collection of Latin American Cronistas. Mr. Flatow (B.A. 1941), who received an honorary degree in 2013, passed away on May 1st.

The map of the “Nuevo Mundo” (above) is an appropriate image to represent the breadth of Bernard Flatow’s life activities. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies from Carolina and became a diplomat in the world of business and public relations. In the 1950s, Flatow worked in Bolivia as director of public relations for one of the largest tin mining companies in the world and then for The Texas Company and Sinclair in Colombia and Venezuela. He later handled public relations in Latin America for Pepsi Cola and 20th Century Fox.

With these contacts, he started exchange programs: one bringing 54 Mexican professionals in 21 areas of study to Chapel Hill; one between Venezuela and Kenan-Flagler Business School; and another with specialists in physical therapy and rehabilitation of the blind, between Mexico and the UNC School of Medicine.

Flatow was a member of the Mexican Institute of Culture, and his collection of seventy-six rare books pertaining to the early history of European contacts with the New World is housed in the RBC.

This writer recalls a delightful luncheon with Mr. Flatow and Prof. Kathryn Burns in July 2011. He told wonderful stories of his time in Latin America and his pursuit of rare books there. The best story we heard, however, was about how his passion for the Spanish language began.

When in high school in New York, Flatow was a dedicated member of the tennis team. The sport took a lot of practice time, and he figured if there were one course he could safely neglect, it would be Spanish. He ended up getting a poor grade, and his father, reviewing his report card, told him that he wanted to see an “A” the next time.

So, Flatow took to learning the language with real vigor, attending gatherings at the Pan American Club in New York City. It was filled with businessmen with Latin American concerns, and Flatow was the only teenager there. They took him under their wing. Eventually Flatow found his way to UNC-Chapel Hill, and studied Spanish with Prof. Sturgis E. Leavitt.

At the end of the 2011 luncheon, Mr. Flatow generously presented the Rare Book Collection with a gift in honor of Prof. Leavitt: Exposición que hace un peruano al virey Lacerna, a cerca del verdadero estado político de la América en la presente época (Santiago de Chile: Imprenta Nacional, 1822) Flatow F1412 .P47 1822.

In addition to an honorary doctor of laws degree, Flatow’s UNC awards include the General Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Medal and the Board of Trustees’ William Richardson Davie Award.