A Tough Act to Follow
A Eulogy for Br. Benedict by Eduardo R. Lucero
the initial shock of alumni following Br. Ben's untimely demise while
vacationing in Baguio last January 3, after the moving accolades and
eulogies of friends and associates, after the many financial pledges to
his favorite causes, after his will's step-by-step procedure on how to
handle the details of his death, after his no-frills interment in La
Salle Lipa, what?
Lito Tanjuatco, current DLSAA President; Jing Olivares, Vice-President and Treasurer; Bobby de Ocampo, Director; and I met last January 12 to ensure the normal functioning and business-as-usual operations of the DLSAA. We had little trouble effecting personnel and procedural adjustments. After all, the DLSAA was a corporation that was supposed to continue in spite of any officer and, certainly, the Association was no exception.
Over the past weeks, I kept asking myself, as Elfren Cruz had asked me prior to his BusinessWorld column last January 6, what was Br. Ben's value to the DLSAA and the alumni? To the DLSAA as a unit organized to service the after-school needs of alumni which are essentially organizing 70,000 alumni worldwide, publishing the Alumnews, maintaining computers and databases, holding annual homecoming and sports/golf tournaments, supporting the University's sports, etc., probably not much.
He was the one of the pioneers of DLSU's now renowned academic prowess in IT and computer technology and a driven McKintosh addict but showed little interest in the Association's alumni database development and updates. He was once DLSU's Executive Officer in charge of class schedules and records of all students but had difficulty getting the long-planned DLSAA golf circuit off the ground. He would agree to budget P.5 million to give to World Congresses but vehemently deny the $100 annual fee for the world association of Lasallian alumni, the UMAEL. He participated in many University meetings and made his presence and opinions felt in campus, like an Elvis Presley of sorts, when he had no official authority to do so. He had no business renovating the Chapel of the Most Blessed Sacrament, yet he raised the money and, in the process, appointed himself the 'Manager'. Go figure.
I am privileged to have worked with Br. Ben since 1990 when I was first 'appointed' to the Board and, therefore, consider myself a minor authority of the Br. Ben mystique. What, then, was his secret?
First, unconditional love of the alumni and the University. At the time of his death, Br. Ben was DLSU's Vice-President Emeritus for Development and Alumni Affairs and Executive Director of the DLSAA. Not much by way of work. In 2002, I asked him why, after his Mom's death, he did not spend more time in Chicago with Lee, his sister and only surviving member of his immediate family, he said: "Danding, you do not realize that this is my decision and vow. I belong here and not in Chicago." He subscribed to all local papers except the Philippine Star (no obituaries). "I want to see how my 'boys' are doing (BusinessWorld) and to find out who have died (Manila Daily Bulletin and Philippine Daily Inquirer)." Always, from pianists to priests, he would first ask, is he a Lasallian?
Second, longevity. No one currently in DLSU with the possible exception of Br. Felix, can claim physical presence on campus for some 50 years. I do not remember Br. Ben having been assigned to any Lasallian campus except Taft and probably owns this distinction among the Christian Brothers. To be sure, fifty years or more than one generation, give a rich memory and a critical sense of history: "First they want to rename Taft Avenue to Gregorio Aglipay Avenue, now, its Jose Diokno Avenue (expletives excluded)..."
Indeed, the best and most impressionable years of both student and teacher are spent in high school when bonding is at a peak. Br. Ben met his 'core' alumni friends as high school teacher and principal -- Bomboy Araneta, Joey Cuisia, Tony Ortigas, Mon del Rosario, Chiqui Ramirez, etc. and the rest as DLSAA general factotum -- Alfred Xeres-Burgos, Marquitos Roces, Ramoncito Campos, to name a few. Apart from those Br. Ben taught as an Engineering professor, he knew few alumni who went to DLSU for college but never failed to acknowledge their green pedigree -- a Lasallian successful lighting company executive in Chicago, an alumnus PAL reservations officer in San Francisco, a Class 65 golfer in Nueva Ecija. He has met them everywhere and they have loved him.
There is no other Christian Brother who has spent more time exclusively with alumni and their families both here and abroad than Br. Ben. Second and even third generation Lasallians acknowledge him as their principal link to DLSAA and the University and Br. Ben has become the go-to person when La Salle comes to mind.
Third, no other agenda. The only material benefit that Br. Ben got from the DLSAA and only when its finances could afford was an office vehicle. The Board in the mid-90s approved the purchase of a second-hand Nissan Sentra because "Shit, driving that car (a non-power steering Mercedes) gives me hernia." DLSAA likewise gave him a measly allowance of P5,000 a month, principally for gas. He spent his own funds or his friends would sponsor occasional tickets for his trips home or to DLSAA World Congresses.
Br. Ben's fund-raising power was legendary. While he would occasionally learn new phrases like 'donor fatigue,' on which he would dwell and lecture on for periods of time, he was successful in getting alumni to donate chairs for DLSU. He publicly acknowledged his admiration for Br. Andrew's academic vision and indefatigably assisted him in raising money, both for infrastructure and scholarships. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that he specified in his 'will' that all donations in his name, post mortem, be given to scholarships for the College of Engineering.
I will miss Br. Ben. My wife will miss him, too, because she will remember the almost unfailing nightly calls, specially after he bought a cellphone, even if just to tell me that he has to wake up in a few hours to watch the golf US Masters, to remind me to lend him my new Yo Yo Ma CD to burn in his new laptop, or to say that he got me DLSU chorale tickets. More importantly, I will feel his absence when there will be no one to acknowledge our efforts in the Association and smile on what it takes to be a Lasallian today.