Column: A man of good will

 

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One of my favorite photos of my father: Breaking the fast before going out to vote on Election Day 2016.

Published on July 19, 2016.

MY FATHER died a week ago; we interred his ashes the other day. At the funeral Mass on July 16, as one of his six children, I read the following eulogy (which I have ever so slightly revised). Please allow a loyal son to pay tribute to a good man and a full life:

One of my favorite memories is of my father doing a Steph Curry. In 1974 or 1975, when we lived in Davao City, I accompanied my father to an out-of-town basketball game; it was probably a provincial liga sponsored by Coca-Cola.

As guests, we sat on chairs on courtside, right by the half-court line. At one point during the game, or perhaps it was during half-time, the ball bounced in our direction. He picked up the ball; instead of giving it back to a referee, he took aim and launched it into the air. It found the hoop—and went in.

As you can imagine, it was easy to admire a man like that. In the eyes of an 11-year-old, he could do no wrong. Today, considerably older than 11, I can say in all honesty: He was the first man I idolized, and the only one who didn’t turn out to have feet of clay.

In the last few days, we have heard many good things about a good man who lived a full life; he has been affectionately described as a mentor, a second father, a hero, a model husband (married to my mom for 61 years!), a servant leader, an inspiration, Mr. Rotary, a moral compass, the gravitational center of the clan, a servant of the Church, a faithful Catholic as defined by the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, a true friend of the poor. He was all this, and these moving testimonies have been a source of deep consolation. But there were also other aspects to his character; allow me to point, proudly, to a few.

He was gifted at sports, just good at whatever it was he took up. He had best-in-class trophies in golf and in bowling; he enjoyed pelota and table tennis and badminton (and he also enjoyed competing against my brothers and me). The other day, spooling through the mind’s reel of memories, I remembered a father-son day when I was in the sixth grade and a new student in Manila. He joined other dads in the volleyball game; when it was his turn to serve, he did something unusual. When he served, he launched the ball on such a steep arc that it would seem to disappear in the sunlight right over the net, and then when it came down the opposing team had a hard time seeing it. I cannot recall if we won that game, but this I distinctly remember: He scored six straight points.

He was gifted at his job, bringing the same sense of competitive creativity, or creative competitiveness, to a 40-year career in San Miguel. He didn’t like to call attention to himself, but to my mother he did share the good news of promotions or new assignments when they came, and they came often. This is what I remember. He started in 1952, at the age of 19, as a relief salesman; that is to say, he didn’t even have a regular route. At the end of his career, he was head of Magnolia. When he joined it in 1981, Magnolia had one manufacturing plant, about a thousand employees, and more than P300 million in revenues. When he retired 10 years later, it had been transformed: four plants in the Philippines, two joint ventures abroad, about 3,000 employees, and some P4 billion in revenues.

He was gifted at the election thing. He was president of two Rotary Clubs in two cities, president of the pastoral council in three parishes, a board member of the Philippine Red Cross for over 25 years. One of his proudest moments as a Filipino was when the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies asked him unexpectedly, in 1998, to run for vice president; despite the lack of preparation, he topped the election, with 120 National Societies, out of 187 in the world, voting for him. He even started our family’s tradition of taking turns serving as barangay kagawad.

He was gifted at life: He enjoyed a clever game of mahjong (which he played old school: He didn’t bother to arrange his tiles or put them right side up; he could read any which way). He enjoyed a good drink; indeed, he was such a strong drinker it is amazing he lived this long, without damage to the liver … . He enjoyed his time with old friends, such as Tito Nene and Tito Manny, Gov. Bimbo and Gov. Jess, and with new ones, such as Alex and Javi; when he recalled these moments his eyes would disappear, crinkling. He enjoyed watching sports on TV, and learned to follow Mama’s telenovelas. He loved a good book; we all inherited our love of reading from him.

He was a man of many gifts; but above all, and to us, he was God’s own, many-sided gift.

* * *

Days after the funeral, I find myself sorting through our family’s memories. I am struck, now, by patterns I had not seen before. I see now that he belonged to a generation that still dreamed of staying with one company for life; in 1989, he shared with Magnolia awardees his sense of gratitude about living “the feeling of adventure” with San Miguel. I see from his letters that he lived through that time when professionalization was changing the corporate landscape; in 1974, he wrote his eldest son: “Nowadays, an ordinary four-year degree is so common even clerks are required to have it.” And I see from the other eulogies that he belonged to an era defined by the focus, not on sentiment or style or passion, but will. He was always hard at work. The difference between vision and daydream, between belief and service, between love and feeling, was will.

Mario R. Nery: Aug. 17, 1932-July 12, 2016.

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