Charles Hale was a humble history professor from Minnesota who quietly wrote books and conducted research on arcane topics unfamiliar to most Americans.

But in Mexico, Hale was an intellectual rock star, penning books on Mexican political theory that earned several prestigious prizes, including the Orden del Águila Azteca (Order of the Golden Eagle), the country's top honor for foreigners.

Hale "was a big influence on intellectual thinking in Mexico," said brother Roger of Minneapolis. "For scholars in the field, he was an iconic figure."

Hale, a Minneapolis native and respected Latin American scholar at the University of Iowa, died Sept. 29 in Seattle of congestive heart failure. He was 78.

"He was a quiet, scholarly person with unshakable character," Roger Hale said. "There was not a false or superficial bone in his body."

Born June 5, 1930, Hale enjoyed sports as a kid, playing hockey, football and baseball. He first became interested in Latin America after spending a summer in Mexico during high school.

An accomplished student, Hale earned history degrees from Amherst College and the University of Minnesota before moving to Strasbourg, France, on a Fulbright fellowship.

In 1957, Hale received a Ph.D. at Columbia University, where he studied under the renowned Latin American historian Frank Tannenbaum.

Hale taught briefly at the University of North Carolina, Leigh University and Amherst College. At the University of Iowa, where he spent the bulk of his career, Hale concentrated on the intellectual history of Mexican liberalism in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Hale's book, "Mexican Liberalism in the Age of Mora, 1821-1853," won Mexico's Fray Bernardino de Sahagun Prize. He later received the Bolton-Johnson Prize for penning "The Transformation of Liberalism in Late Nineteenth Century Mexico."

Hale "was a very studious, serious scholar," Robert Hale said. "He was not one of those quick, grind-out-the-books authors."

In 1993, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari awarded Hale with the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor given to a foreigner for service to Mexico.

Hale retired from the University of Iowa in 1997. In 2004, Hale and his wife, Lenore, moved to Seattle to be near their daughter Betsy.

In addition to his wife, children and brother, Hale is survived by his sons and daughters-in-law and his eight grandchildren.

Services will be held in Seattle.

Thomas Lee • 612-673-7744