OPINION: Joe McMicking: Billiards and a sentimental hire

Buddy Gomez - Cyberbuddy

Posted at Sep 14 2017 08:07 PM

Apparently, long before “Bata” and “Django,” there was an up and coming “Hustler Joe!”

Joe, in our continuing series, is of course Joseph R. McMicking. A pre-Ayala, a pre-Makati McMicking. “Bata” is Efren Reyes while “Django” is Francisco Bustamante. And what do these three men have in common? Billiards! 

The latter two are both renowned recent local champions. Joe McMicking, on the other hand, was not only an aficionado but according to a close relative, he was a three-time Casino Espanol champion and was rated as one of the top three amateurs in the country. This was in the late 1920s, after returning from an abbreviated schooling in Stanford University.

As it turns out, McMicking’s two years in Stanford was also very much associated with billiards. He used to hang out in a particular pool hall in Palo Alto and even did ‘promotional’ crowd-drawing table practice games for the proprietor. 

According to my source, Joe was the “unchallenged” billiards champion in the Stanford campus. Joe is remembered to have once reminisced that he “was not doing too well in my studies” and was eager to go home to Manila and start working! Shades of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, reckoning that returning to school for a diploma would not be any more useful for their dreams!

Much later in life, McMicking recalls the thrill of having played with (and of course, getting clobbered by) the likes of Welker Cochran and Willie Hoppe, both champion professionals in the U.S. Older folks would remember an old movie, “The Hustler,” starring Paul Newman portraying “Fast Eddie” pitted against Jackie Gleason’s “Minnesota Fats.” The thought crosses my mind: What if Joe McMicking did not abandon billiards?

Back in Manila, Joe’s first job was in the Automobile department of the Philippines’ largest trading company at the time. The Pacific Commercial Company was the local agent for General Motors, among others. He and a friend, Antonio Feliciano (A.F.) Gonzalez, were assigned to uncrating automobiles in the harbor warehouse. 

At PhPesos 80 a month. Joe was also a car salesman. He sold Buicks before deciding to move on to a better-paying job. (A.F. Gonzalez became the long time Chairman of the Board of Ayala’s IL-FGU Insurance Group. He is the father of Tony Gonzalez, CEO/Mondragon Int’l and President Cory’s first Secretary of Tourism.)

Joe next found employment with the Eastman-Kodak agency in the Philippines. The Camera Supply Company. He worked up to being Sales Manager. Aside from cameras and films, they also sold Royal typewriters and Marchant calculating machines. As the old saying goes, Joe had “his belly against the counter” tending to customers across a glass show case. At that time the shop’s proprietor, successor to the original American owner, was a certain Jose de la Fuente. (Mr. de la Fuente is the younger brother of Manuel de la Fuente, Manila’s Chief of Police and subsequently, Mayor. Both went to school in San Beda.)

Fast forward, some 38 years or so, after. I am a San Beda boy and one of our school’s proudest moments was when the Bar Examination results were announced that year. The top two spots, No. 1 and No. 2, were garnered by Bedans Florenz Regalado and Valedictorian Renato de la Fuente, class of 1954. Their grades, 96.7% and 95.95%, respectively, remain unsurpassed to this day. 

To harness and to hone the potential teaching assets of the school’s Bar topnotchers, Dean Feliciano Jover Ledesma invited them to teach in the Law school. At first, they were assigned non-Bar subjects like Roman Law and Statutory Construction. During the 1955-56 school year, in their first teaching assignments, I was Freshman Law. I read subjects under Flor and Bobby (that was Atty. De la Fuente’s nickname) Although we were younger, we were close to Bobby as we used to play duck-pin bowl, party and picnic together, with a group of colegialas, including Cory Ricafort who would become Bobby’s bethrothed and eventually, Mrs. De la Fuente. Through all those years, I remained close to Bobby and we would get together every so often. We had all looked up to Bobby as ‘kuya’ (big brother), after all, he was the College hallway icon and the campus’ brainiest! 

Bobby went on to Michigan U. in Ann Arbor as a Dewitt scholar. Clyde Dewitt was an American lawyer who practiced in Manila and was a Santo Tomas/Los Banos internee during WWII. He bequeathed, from his estate, this Masteral scholarship for outstanding Filipino law graduates. For many years, apart from continuing to teach at the San Beda Law School, Bobby lawyered for his former classmate, Eddie Lim, as his full time day job. Both belonged HS class of 1948 of which Bobby was also Valedictorian. 

Ninoy Aquino, by the way, was a member of that class. Eddie Lim, on the other hand, is remembered as a two-time Philippine Olympic Basketball Team member. (Helsinki/’52 and Melbourne/’56) Eddie had a successful insurance and stock exchange business, to
which Bobby devoted his legal services.

Sometime towards the late 1960s, during our usual get-togethers, Bobby brought up an interesting bit of information. Knowing, of course, that I was already employed by Ayala, Bobby told me—“you know, Mr. McMicking used to work for the Camera Supply of Manila which my father owned. That was before Kodak decided to handle the company’s business directly and by themselves.” 

Bingo! My mind was beginning to rev up speed. Quite evidently, coincidentally, Bobby had the same idea. “Ganoon pa la naman…(That being the case) why not apply for work in Ayala directly with Col. McMicking?” I encouragingly egged him on. Well, in fact, that was why he was sharing with me that bit from what already seemed a providential past, to see how I would react to his intention. 

Asked how he could get in touch with Col. McMicking, I immediately gave him the Sotogrande (more on this JRM project later in the series) address in Cadiz, Spain. It was at that time of the year when Col. McMicking spent time in Spain. I did not tell anyone in Ayala about this as I was eager to first hear from Bobby, the result of his venture even as I was confident that JRM would react very favorably.

Almost a month had passed when from across my boss’ (Mr. Enrique Zobel) room, where my desk was positioned, Atty. Salvador J. Lorayes, Ayala’s long-time corporate lawyer, approached me, with a tinge of irritated trepidation, apparently because he might have felt blindsided. In fact I remember, he was somewhat flummoxed! “Do you know anything about this? Who is this Renato de la Fuente?” Bingo! Already I knew! But still I asked “Bakit ho?” Respectfully, “Why?” And Atty. Lorayes said, “I just received a telex from McMicking directing me to hire this person!” 

And that was when I shared with him the information of who Bobby was, academically at first, and the clincher—that Mr. McMicking used to work for the Camera Supply Company, for that person’s father. In an instant, Atty. Lorayes understood. For sentimental reasons and upon the big boss’ orders, who in Ayala can ever object! 

I telephoned Bobby, he came to meet Atty. Lorayes and within days, he was a fellow Ayala employee of mine. What a very welcome addition to the staff. Personally, I was triumphant quite apart from the merits Bobby bought to Ayala’s ranks.

A few weeks had passed and it was the usual time for JRM to come and spend his annual stint in Makati. Upon coming to the office, the first order of his day was to summon his sentimental, long-distance hire, who he had never met before. 

This is how Bobby de la Fuente shared with me this moment. Upon entering Col. McMicking’s room, “…so, you are Renato de la Fuente….. I suppose you know that I used to work for your father,” and with that Chesire Cat smile on his face, JRM’s distinctive mischievous grin, the punch line: ”Now, you are working for me!” 

Both had a hearty laugh. And the reminiscences went on and on. JRM indeed relished remembering the good old days when as a young man he had “his belly against the counter” selling cameras, typewriters and adding machines, while exchanging memories with his ‘sentimental hire.” It was an acquaintance and orientation session that Bobby and I remembered fondly.

Bobby went on to succeed Atty. Lorayes as Ayala’s Corporate Counsel. Regardless of assignments, positions or ranks that came our way, Bobby and I were always ‘Executive Assistants’ to Ayala’s ‘fearless leader,’ Don Enrique Zobel, who succeeded JRM. Unfortunately, as with many active lives, idle times, when they finally come, can become disagreeable and take its toll. Soon after retirement, Bobby suffered a stroke. Eight years after, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He passed on in 2002. He was only 73. 

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