The Rigsby Language and Culture Commons honors Drs. George and Jeannette Rigsby, who have been part of the University of San Diego since its earliest years, and who have instilled in students, faculty, staff and friends a love of the world’s languages, cultures and customs.
Jeannette Rigsby, the daughter of a Dutch diplomat and Parisian homemaker, grew up in France and later joined the faculty at the College for Women in 1959. Upon her arrival, she offered the first upper division French class, founded the French department, and became known across campus simply as “Madame.”
Madame Rigsby was recognized twice by the French government. She was named a chevalier, or knight, to the Ordre des Palmes Académiques, an Order of Chivalry of France for academics, and cultural and educational figures. She was also named as an officier in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, another Order of France, which recognizes significant contributions to the arts and literature. She worked at the University of San Diego until retiring in 1994, at which time she was named a professor emerita.
Always a professor at heart, Madame Rigsby continued to teach French, never forgetting the value of personal contact and connection, which is vital to learning languages and understanding cultures. A longtime and honorary president of Alliance Française de San Diego, Madame welcomed both former students and new scholars, from the local community as well as from France, into her home for impromptu concerts, gatherings and celebrations of French holidays, including La Fête Nationale, or Bastille Day, La Fête des Rois, celebrated globally as the Epiphany or Kings’ Day, and La Chandeleur, Une Fête de la Lumière, the Catholic holiday of Candelmas.
Her husband of 44 years, George Rigsby, a Cal Tech graduate in glaciology who for a brief stint taught geology at the college, was just as well known at Alcalá Park before he passed away in 2009 at the age of 94. The two were often seen at concerts in the French Parlor, scholarship luncheons, homecoming festivities, Friends of the Library functions, Invisible University events and Bridges Academy lectures. They helped establish the French Endowed Scholarship Fund, for French majors who study abroad in France. They also actively supported the university in many other areas, including the Society of the Sacred Heart, the music department, the tennis program and the Kyoto Laureate Symposium.
Established in 2013, the Rigsby Language and Culture Commons is located in Founders Hall, around the corner from Founders Chapel and just steps away from the French Parlor —places dear to Madame Rigsby. The Commons gives students, faculty and staff a place to interact, speak, learn and study in many different languages. The Commons is a dynamic and evolving space where people enjoy programs, lectures, films and intercultural encounters and study the world’s many languages, cultures, customs and artistic genres.
In the words of Madame Jeannette Rigsby, “Language is the philosophy of life.” To her, teaching the love of languages, cultures and customs was her raison d'être — her reason for living, her purpose in life.