Friday, March 09, 2012
I am happy to say I wrote this.
EASY, GRACIOUS PRESENCE
Many speak of him as witty, cultured and well-read. But those descriptions tend to remain in the abstract until one enters the office of the late Philippine Daily Inquirer publisher Isagani Yambot and sees for him- or herself the breadth of the man’s hunger for learning.
On shelves and bookcases lining every wall of the office, surrounding his table that itself is piled high with paperwork and reading fare, are volumes on every topic imaginable, from some of the world’s oldest literature (the “Bhagavad Gita,” Petronius’ “Satyricon”) to Western classics (Gide’s “The Immoralist,” Thomas Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure”); from science fiction and travelogues (Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Paul Theroux’s “The Pillars of Hercules”) to contemporary literary fare (Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses,” Graham Greene’s “The Tenth Man”); from nonfiction (V.S. Naipaul’s “India,” Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air”) to potboilers (John Grisham’s “The Partner,” Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”).
Not surprisingly, memoirs and biographies of media stalwarts abound (Ben Bradlee’s “The Good Life,” Arthur Gelb’s “City Room,” James Reston’s “Deadline”) along with more panoramic studies of the industry (David Halberstam’s “The Powers That Be,” Howard Kurtz’s “Media Circus”). There is history (Sterling Seagrave’s “The Marcos Dynasty,” Nick Joaquin’s “The Aquinos of Tarlac”) and pseudo-history (“The Marcos Years: Achievements under the New Society”). And film, celebrity and pop culture also get their due (George Plimpton’s “Truman Capote” and “The Cinema of Manuel Conde”).
Yambot was a fixture in film festivals, the theater and the concert scene. But not many people knew that, at the end of a movie or a concert, he was invariably back at the office, poring over pages of the paper, often way beyond midnight.
And fewer people knew that while he graduated valedictorian of his batch at Torres High School in Tondo, the salutatorian, Rolando Tinio, would eventually become a National Artist for Theater and Literature. He was, clearly, of that generation that saw the cultivation of the mind, the pursuit of knowledge and the humanities, not only as a professional imperative but also as the anchor of a genteel, gentlemanly life.
Members of his family recall that Yambot was in a hurry to leave the hospital after his heart bypass operation not only because he found the confinement oppressive but also because he wanted to catch a rare production of the opera “La Traviata” in Manila, which ran for only one weekend.
He loved food, the only seeming requirement being that it be edible. He made the rounds of the Inquirer office every afternoon hunting for grub he could squirrel into his office, to be consumed during his late-night labors.
And he loved the sight of pulchritude. A visit from a bevy of beauty queens would see him darting into his office and emerging looking dapper in a suit and with an extra twinkle in his eye.
He was, in short, a boss who wore his gravitas lightly. And in the high-pressure environment of a daily newspaper, that gift for constant buoyancy—a quiet persistence born of decades of experience in the volatile world of Philippine media, some of it under very trying conditions—was always a balm.
Of all the virtues Yambot brought to the Inquirer newsroom—his passion for excellence, his grasp of the vocation and business of news, his defense of press freedom—the one void immediately felt with his passing was his easy, gracious presence.
And from the peerless Conrado de Quiros:
Gani Yambot was nothing if not civilized.
I used to see him in the CCP and elsewhere on the occasions that I got to catch a bit of opera and classical music there. It was unfailing. I wish I could say that he used to see me on the occasions that he did, but I know he did it far more resolutely than me. He loved classical music, and jazz on the side (I’d see him too in jazz fests), and went for it with a passion. It was all of a piece with his general fineness: an eye for the text, an ear for the music.
But that was not the true mark of his civilization. I used to see him too on occasion in forums that dealt with the protection of journalists. I never realized the depth of his passion for it until we held that vigil for the more than 30 journalists that perished in the Maguindanao massacre. It was toward Christmas, we huddled at the steps of the Inquirer office, flickering candles in hand. One by one we took turns making our anger and reprehension known to the world.
When Gani’s turn came, he barely went past a few sentences before he was overcome by emotion. He choked on his words as he tried to describe the horror of the deed. The height of his empathy made it impossible to go on, the depth of his commiseration made it impossible to go on. He stopped, and it was quiet for a while but for the sighing of the wind and the tinkling of distant caroling. Then he summoned his resources and soldiered on. It was a very brief talk he made. It was the best anyone said that night.
Gani Yambot was nothing if not civilized.
You will be missed my friend.