5 Of Robina Gokongwei-Pe's Best Memories Of Her Father, The Late John Gokongwei Jr.
One of the family heirs to the billion-dollar empire made sure that the room would be filled with laughter, not tears, as she delivered her heartfelt eulogy
Death will never be easy.
But interpreting it as a chance to look back on a life well-lived—especially one full of fond memories, quotable quotes, and touching moments—certainly helps ease the pain and grief that come with it, and for Robina Gokongwei-Pe, doing so has definitely helped her cope with the recent passing of her father, business titan John Gokongwei, Jr.
One of the country's titans of industry breathed his last on the November 9, Saturday, at the 93 years old.
At the finish line of his life, John Gokongwei Jr. had raised six children, established the Gokongwei Group, one of the Philippines' most diversified companies, initiated philanthropic endeavors, and successfully conquered industries including food and beverage, hospitality, power, retail, petrochemicals, property development, banking, telecommunications, and transportation.
He was a self-made billionaire through and through in every sense of the word.
Yet, his loved ones are choosing to honor him not only for his professional achievements, but also for the bottomless love and encouragement he had as a father and husband.
His eldest child, Robina, who currently stands as Robinsons Retail Holdings Inc.'s president and CEO, highlights what he was like behind in private when he was alone with his family, painting a picture of a man who had just as much heart just as he did razor-sharp intuition in business.
Check out some of the most heartfelt memories Robina shared about her father in her eulogy:
On the kind of work ethic that her father passed down to her children and his insistence on them learning about the business from the bottom up:
"My dad was ahead of his time as a mentor father. He said if you don’t start at the bottom, you’ll never know who your customer is, and you’ll never know the issues of your staff. He was right. If he didn’t throw me into our Robinsons Department Store bodega when I was right out of college, I don’t think I would be able to manage our business. He even made sure I started in the bodega, the only place where there is no air-conditioning, and he told the HR head that I had to time in and time out."
On her father teaching her that life's struggles, big or small, make you better in the end, based on her experience at her school swim team:
"When I was in U.P., I joined the varsity swimming team. But even after practicing two hours a day in a swimming pool full of moss, I still ended up as the supreme bangko of the team. One day I came home crying. I told my parents why was life so unfair, why did I become a bangko, and my dad said that what I experienced was only the start, and it will make me become a stronger person."
On encouraging her as a successor to the business, while maintaining his fatherly warmth:
"As I became more involved in the business, he continued to encourage me not to be afraid of making mistakes... I liked his words of encouragement, congratulating me for simple wins. But this year, he had other reasons for congratulating me. He had forgotten about the business and was now congratulating me for the UP men’s basketball team entering the Final Four for the second year in a row. He knew what his daughter really loved the most."
On her father's tenacity as a businessman and his continued involvement with his companies up until the very end:
"A lot of people know my dad as a businessman, and boy, was he a businessman. He had been lying in bed for six weeks, unable to speak well because of a tube in his mouth. Other patients would ask for food. He kept asking for company financial reports."
On one of her favorite memories of her father:
"My dad was always known to be a sloppy dresser and cheap when it comes to dressing up. His tie always had a stain from ice cream or coffee. When I got married in Hong Kong in 1993, he did not even bring with him a new suit. But my wedding ninong, the late Geny Lopez Jr. said that he was wearing a tuxedo. My dad got kind of embarrassed and said he had to upgrade his utfit. He also would like to wear a tuxedo. He did not even think of buying a tuxedo, he decided to rent one!"
As she was closing her eulogy, Robina had her listeners caught up in a mix of laughter and tears, a collective feeling of knowing that her father would be missed but of happiness, too, in being sure that he was loved until his last day on earth.
She made a promise to the great taipan:
"Get some rest, dad. We will look at the financial statements for you.
By the way, we did not rent his outfit for today. Somewhere along the way, he decided to buy himself an expensive suit, and we made sure that the tie did not have a stain."
For those who wish to pay their respects to John Gokongwei Jr., his wake will be held until November 14, Thursday, at at the Heritage Park, Taguig. Visitors may drop by from 12 n.n. to 10 p.m. and join nightly masses at 7 p.m.
His family also requests that the public instead make donations to their charity of choice in place of flowers and tokens for John.
Photo from @robinsonsdepartmentstore