FRAMINGHAM – Alberto moved through the adventure that is life with a quiet yet compelling confidence. With an inherent curiosity that drove him to explore and a clever wit that never failed to make those around him laugh, Alberto saw so much of the world and left an impact on everyone who was lucky enough to meet him.
Alberto Jose de Santaflorentina Hernández was born in Zaragoza, Spain where he lived for eight years before his family moved to Madrid’s Alameda de Osuna neighborhood. Growing up, Alberto was known for his interest in everyone he met, always eager to learn people’s histories and stories, his love of comics (he could often be heard crying with laughter inside his room), his interest in repairing cars, and learning about other countries, their cultures, and their languages – he even spent a summer in Norway with a family friend, eager to experience a different way of life. He had a level of maturity and sense of self unusual for someone of his age.
He studied architecture for two years at university before the Spanish draft interrupted his studies. At the age of 20, he spent a year in “Los Regulares”, a branch of the Spanish military that was stationed in the autonomous Spanish city of Melilla along the coast of Morocco. After his release, Alberto moved to Barcelona where he worked alongside his uncle for the family’s aluminum factory. Upon the death of his father, Alberto moved back to Madrid to support his mother Laura and sixteen-year-old sister Silvia. During this time, Alberto rented a studio space where he built and sold his own furniture. Some of his tables still grace his mother’s apartment.
If there is one thing everyone can agree on, it is how much of Alberto’s youth was taken up by a fascination with and love of American culture. He eagerly consumed American music and movies, and especially loved Westerns. It was because of this longtime love that Alberto decided to venture west; he sold his beloved Pontiac Firebird, booked a flight to San Francisco with very little money, no place to sleep for the night, and no plan beyond wanting to learn English, but with a determination to get to the United States. So, he went.
It took just about a month for Alberto to realize that California was not for him. Thankfully, a cousin who had been living in Cambridge put in a good word for the northeast. He once again looked at a map and booked a flight to Boston, Massachusetts. Armed with nothing but a suitcase, Alberto directed his taxi driver to a boarding house he’d found in the one guidebook he’d brought with him. He enrolled in English classes, where he saw an ad at the school for a spare room for rent in Cambridge. The poster of the ad just happened to work with a redheaded woman named Tracy Marshall.
Tracy and her colleague made plans to meet for Chinese food on July 3, 1991, and despite being hesitant to include the foreigner who still barely spoke English, she agreed to have him join them for dinner. As soon as the door opened and she saw Alberto, Tracy knew she was in trouble. As it turns out, the feeling was mutual, and the rest was history. Tracy and Alberto enjoyed Chinese food on July 3rd. from then on.
What started as a short, stateside excursion to learn the language turned into an epic, thirty-two-year love story (one which includes CDs that still smell of a broken cologne bottle when a suitcase was dropped during an airport reunion) that led Alberto to build his life with “su pelirroja” in the United States.
Tracy and Alberto married on Cape Cod in May of 1993, and lived in Cambridge and Watertown before settling down in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1997 shortly after having their daughter, Hayley.
Alberto began working in the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital’s Office of Interpreter Services, where he would stay for the duration of his career, spanning over 23 years. Alberto was known by all who worked there as a compassionate, hardworking, funny, and infinitely patient colleague, and he had a special group of friends in the “Lunch Bunch.”
Alberto’s curiosity and interest in the world followed him into adulthood, continuing to be a voracious reader, as well as an art lover. He was a frequent visitor of art museums and had a special love for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he was a longtime member. He seemed to know at least a little bit about everything because he had probably read at least a little bit about everything. His intellect was most apparent during political discussions, spirited social debates, and nightly airings of “Jeopardy,” when Alberto always seemed to know the answers. Except for the instances when Hayley or Tracy beat him to it. These moments were always followed by a quiet, “I knew that.”
His determination to be a lifelong learner combined with a can-do attitude led him to take on some major home renovations. These include refinishing an entire basement, complete with a bar he built from the ground up, a nod to his furniture-building days, and rebuilding a backyard deck with a self-designed wooden canopy. These are still some of his family’s favorite places to be.
When he wasn’t reading, building, or gallery hopping, Alberto could most often be found in nature. Some of his happiest days were spent at Callahan State Park with Hayley and his dogs – first Penny and then Sirius. He went to Callahan so often that he was known by name by the other regulars. Alberto had a deep-seated appreciation for the natural world, and often took it upon himself to pick up litter or clear the paths of fallen branches and logs blocking the way. The “Keeper of Callahan.”
When thinking about Alberto, one cannot go without mentioning his sense of humor. Alberto may not have been the loudest person in the room, but he was often the funniest. From well-timed jokes to the entertaining and compelling way he told stories, he never failed to make those around him laugh – you just had to be listening. And of course, the person who usually laughed the loudest and hardest at Alberto’s jokes was in fact Alberto. A trait he passed on to his daughter.
But Alberto’s greatest gift was how deeply he loved. It was never in doubt how much Alberto cared about the people in his life, and we will all continue to feel his love for many, many years to come.
To those who knew him, Alberto was a gentle, essential force. For his mother, who lost her husband too young, a strong and constant support system. For his sister and her sons, a brother, father figure, and mentor all in one. For his in-laws and nephews, the inventor of endless “Spanglish” words that have been hard to shake. For his wife, a loving, caring, and supportive partner, with whom she built the most wonderful life. And for his daughter, a devoted father who showed her the meaning of strength, kindness, curiosity, and bravery.
Alberto passed away surrounded by those who loved him most on March 31, 2023, after four years with pancreatic cancer. He will be remembered by all for his generosity, his sense of humor, and his warmth, but especially by his wife Tracy Marshall; his daughter Hayley Santaflorentina; his mother Laura Santaflorentina Chavarría; his sister and nephews, Silvia Santaflorentina and Alvaro and Gonzalo Moreno; his in-laws Sandy and Phil Marshall; his sister and brother-in law Laurie and Mark Holbrook; his nephews Hunter Holbrook and his fiancée Lauren Ellman and Connor Holbrook and his wife Peyton Kent; and countless other family members and friends who loved him dearly. He joins his father, Tomás Hernández Cavero, in whatever lies beyond.
In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made in Alberto’s memory to support the team at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute who provided essential, life-sustaining treatment and took care of Alberto and his family in every sense – Brian Wolpin, MD, Molly Nestor, MSN, Sandra Ruland, RN, and Nancy Bailey, RN. Donations can be made to support Dr. Wolpin’s research at:
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
P.O. Box 849168
Boston, MA 02284
Or online via this Giving Page
We are still determining how best we wish to celebrate Alberto’s life and legacy. If you wish to be included in memorial plans, likely to occur later this spring, please reach out to AlbertoSantaflorentinaMemorial@gmail.com.
To share a memory with Alberto’s family, kindly visit www.mccarthyfh.com