John Gokongwei with eldest grandchild Justin back in the day.
Culture Spotlight

Gokongwei’s eldest apo on how he gave his Angkong the biggest smile just before he died

“He taught us everything that we needed to know,” said eldest Gokongwei grandchild Justin Pe yesterday in his eulogy for his grandfather. This included humility, never acting like he’s entitled, and—because he’s single—to “play around”.
ANCX | Nov 16 2019

Yesterday morning, Friday, at Heritage Park in Taguig City, Justin Pe paid his last respects to his departed grandfather, the industrialist John Gokongwei Jr. with a heartfelt eulogy both touching and funny. The eldest grandchild of Mr John — he is the son of Robina Gokongwei Pe — he said that his grandfather’s journey was that of true grit, and that despite his enormous success the business titan has remained humble. Justin, who said he just joined the family business four months ago, also thanked Mr. John for teaching him humility, how to ride a bike, and to “play around.” For what he exactly meant, below is Justin’s full eulogy courtesy of the Gokongwei family. 

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Some people have said: “Part of the journey is the end.”

My Angkong’s journey was a journey of pure grit. He always made sure that he worked hard and smart, giving 100% of his effort in everything he did. He never gave up in what he believed in, always took risks, and continuously learned new things. Yet despite his success as one of the Philippines' most successful businessmen, he stayed humble throughout. He taught us everything that we needed to know, like not bragging about what you have, ABSOLUTELY NO ENTITLEMENT, showing me how to ride a bike, teaching me how to drink coffee —and it has to be Great Taste — and for the single ones like me, what I needed to know about playing around.

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Since Day 1 of his wake, I’ve always been asked two questions: the first one is where the Chippy pillow came from — by the way it is a pillow and not a blanket or a family size Chippy pack — and the second is about my Angkong’s advice to me, which was to “play around.”

The Chippy pillow was a product that we sold at Toys  R Us last year, along with the Chiz Curls pillow. When Angkong needed a pillow to lay his arm on at the hospital, my Auntie Marcia thought of bringing that pillow. We decided to put the same pillow with him now because we know it will provide comfort for him if he knew that that one of his bestselling snacks would go with him to the beyond.

But as for the second question, I’ll get to that much later. My mom only spoke half of it in her eulogy three days ago. Let me talk about other things first.

Back then, when I was a little boy, Angkong always beat me in swimming. I was really shocked that someone who was 78 could beat me in swimming. I was nine then, and he’d make beating me look so damn easy. But he’d always remind me that one should not worry about defeat. Anyway, like my mom, I decided that sticking to something despite so many defeats is no longer being smart.

Competitive swimming was not one of my strengths and so I switched to golf and played with my Dad, whom I easily beat.

A young John Gokongwei.

I often visited my Angkong to play mahjong, along with my grandmother and cousin Therese. He and my grandmother would always win—these two old fellows who, in their late 70s back then, were still very, very sharp. To this day, my cousins and I still play mahjong every Sunday lunch, but I guarantee that none of us could match the sharpness that both my Amah and Angkong had when it comes to mahjong.

I used to visit Angkong a lot at the office when i was still in school. One day he noticed that my grades were slipping.

I told him, “Angkong, I was told to socialize more to not be so torpe and not be such a nerd.” To which he replied: “I’d rather you be a nerd.” Just goes to show how back then, and even now, being smart is truly the new sexy.

During those very tough days in the hospital when we never knew whether he would give up or still fight, I happened to catch him in his best moment. He pointed at me and called me, and in his grungy voice, asked me directly without blinking: “How are our coffee sales?” I responded: “We’re doing much better this month Angkong! Our new product developments have contributed a lot, and so have Great Taste Premium and Great Taste Choco.” I swear to God that he had the biggest smile I ever saw in his face. He then asked me: “You have girlfriend? If not, just play around, play around!” — while all the nurses AND physicians were there surrounding him. That was one week before he passed.

If there’s one thing that I wish could happen, it’s that he still would have been here to see his grandchildren graduate from college and have good careers. Back then, when I used to work for Shell, he told me that he really wanted to see me join the business before he passed away. I finally joined the business four months ago not knowing he'd pass away so soon. I initially thought that I’d have a hard time in the family business due to the alleged long hours and a salary lower than I got in Shell — but oh how I was truly mistaken. Currently, I work with the best and funniest team I’ve ever met, and thanks to them, we made Angkong let out the biggest smile in the world before he finally passed on.

I initially thought that I’d have a hard time in the family business due to the alleged long hours and a salary lower than I got in Shell — but oh how I was truly mistaken. 

To our beloved Angkong, the one true genius, extraordinary family man, and philanthropist, thank you for everything. None of the events that happened in our family’s lives would have happened without you. You may have passed away, but your legacy will live on. On behalf of the third generation, and as your employee, we promise to keep your legacy shining brightly…. whatever it takes. But please do guide me when I decide to play around, not at work of course.

Thank you Angkong. We love you 3000.*

 

*The quote is a wink to the Tony Stark moment with his daughter in the film Avengers: Endgame. It's his daughter's reply to his "I love you," after he tucks her in to bed. The line is repeated by Tony—this time as hologram—to his daughter at his funeral.