Ross Hugo-Vidal, a prominent Portland attorney who later became a beloved special-education technician for Gorham schools, died Sept. 12 from metastatic melanoma. He was 59.

Mr. Hugo-Vidal was the husband of New York Times best-selling author Julia Spencer-Fleming of Buxton, with whom he had three children.

He practiced law for 14 years, first as a trial attorney at Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer and Nelson in Portland, and then as a litigation manager at People’s Heritage Bank. According to his obituary in Friday’s newspaper, Mr. Hugo-Vidal was an aggressive litigator who worked long hours and fought tirelessly for his clients.

In 2000, when the bank merged with Banknorth Group Inc., he lost his job. Turns out, it was one of the best things that ever happened to him.

Mr. Hugo-Vidal became a stay-at-home father and attended career counseling sessions. Soon after, he entered the University of Southern Maine’s Extended Teacher Education Program, an intensive one-year certification course.

Mr. Hugo-Vidal worked for the Gorham School District for the past 16 years. He was a popular education technician at Narragansett and Great Falls elementary schools and at Gorham High School, and was known by his students as “Mr. H-V.”

Spencer-Fleming spoke Thursday about her husband’s desire to become a teacher and the profound impact he had on students.

“He discovered this vocation and suddenly felt a deep calling to teach,” she said. “He started wearing Hawaiian shirts and growing his hair out. He really blossomed into his authentic self.”

She said her husband was the kind of teacher who saw potential in every student.

“There was no child that he didn’t see as valuable and worth his time and energy,” his wife said. “He loved the idea of putting a key in a lock. He had some kids that were resistant and had behavior issues. What he relished was finding the right approach that clicked with that child and starting the process of reading or math, etc.”

Jane Seidenberg, a special-education teacher at Village Elementary School in Gorham, said Mr. Hugo-Vidal was her ed tech at Narragansett Elementary for almost 10 years. She said he was a wonderful teacher who easily connected with students.

“He loved the children – especially the older boys and they loved him,” Seidenberg said. “He taught them chess. They organized a chess club. All the kids knew him. He had a very contagious laugh and sense of humor.”

Mr. Hugo-Vidal and his wife celebrated their 30th anniversary on May 30. She shared stories Thursday about their first date and her first impressions of him. She said she thought him quirky and kind of dorky at first.

Spencer-Fleming remembered the night he picked her up in his ratty car and took her to a little French bistro in the Georgetown neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

“About halfway through the date, I realized he wasn’t nerdy and homely. He was charming and really attractive,” she said. “It was his personality that made him so. He had a childlike enthusiasm for things he loved. He wasn’t ashamed to show it or admit it.”

The couple centered their life on family. His wife said he was a devoted father who set high expectations for his kids, but helped them reach their goals.

“My dad had a motto for every situation,” his oldest daughter, Victoria Hugo-Vidal, said in the obituary, such as ” ‘The greatest room in the world is room for improvement.’ ‘Aim high, work hard, and never give up.’ And his personal favorite, ‘It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.’ “

Mr. Hugo-Vidal loved traveling and gardening. In recent years, he worked a second full-time job managing his wife’s career. She said he helped with social media projects, marketing and publicity. He also was a fixture at writers conferences and book conventions.

“One of the best things I feel about our marriage is that we were able to support one another in pursuit of our passions,” she said. “I know lots of authors. I know a lot of women authors. My husband really stood out. Ross was unique in the level of enthusiasm and meaningful ways that he helped my career.”

Mr. Hugo-Vidal was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma last spring. He stopped working in May.

“It was a really rough four months,” Spencer-Fleming said. “It felt like I was wading in the ocean while these heavy waves hit me. I finally waded out so far that I was just under water. I think I’m still holding my breath.”

Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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