Luis Varela, former AP sports correspondent, dies at 82

In this 2018 photo provided by the Varela family, former Associated Press sports writers Luis Varela smiles for the camera in Puerto Rico. His son Luis Varela said his father died on Tuesday, June 23, 2020, at a hospital in Ponce, Puerto Rico, from complications after a bowel surgery. (Luis Varela via AP) (Uncredited)

NEW YORK – Luis Rigoberto Varela, who worked nearly 40 years as a correspondent for the now defunct Spanish desk of The Associated Press in Puerto Rico and covered five Olympics and numerous international sports events, has died. He was 82.

His son told the AP that Varela died late Tuesday at a hospital in Ponce, a southern coastal city in Puerto Rico, after facing complications from a June 11 intestinal surgery.

“We’re very sad, but we’re also very satisfied and moved by all the support,” said his son, also named Luis Varela. “He lived a full life, well lived.”

Varela left his native Cuba in 1958 and settled in Puerto Rico, where he started a nearly six-decade career in journalism. His specialty was sports, particularly baseball, track and field, basketball and volleyball. He also had a program — Sports Trench — on the Catholic Radio station.

He served as a mentor to AP colleagues in Puerto Rico and around the region.

“I never saw someone so passionate about their profession. He lived for journalism,” said Pablo Elías Giussani, former editor of the AP’s Spanish service. “He was a sports encyclopedia.”

Varela covered the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, 1980 in Moscow, 1984 in Los Angeles, 1996 in Atlanta and 2000 in Sydney.

He received several recognitions for his work and was admitted into the Puerto Rico Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.

“He had great prestige,” said former AP colleague Sergio Carrasco. “Athletes and managers would often call him to give him an exclusive.”

Varela is survived by his wife, María, with whom he was married 57 years, three children and four grandchildren.