TOMORROW, Enrique Zobel would have turned 90. Which tells me that he has been enjoying his rewards in Heaven for thirteen years now... a lifetime to many, but not long enough for someone like me to forget so much about the man.
An unpublished autobiography of his uncle Joseph McMicking has the latter describing “EZ” as perhaps one of the best leaders Ayala would have. Of course McMicking was comparing EZ to himself, to his brother-in-law Alfonso (father of Don Jaime) and even to the Soriano cousins, and never had a chance to evaluate the next generation. But in a sense – no, in many senses – he was right, because EZ was a singularly outstanding leader of men, many of whom were more intellectually brilliant than he was.
The leadership that he demonstrated was that of an orchestra conductor -- who may have no skill at all in playing any of the instruments that make up the orchestra -- but who alone knew how to wield a baton to transform a cacophony of sound Into a harmonious whole for the rest of the world to appreciate.
I had the privilege to engage with the man for the last sixteen years of his life - from 1988 to 1997 as his executive assistant, then from 1997 to 2004 as his collaborator on essays and columns and speeches that he enjoyed giving till the end. I saw him transform from a man about town to a man wheelchair bound, unable even to just scratch his nose or, to his greatest regret, hug his wife. But I saw him too rise from the depths of depression that one can only imagine, to a life that was almost as normal as normal can be for a quadriplegic. Including his love for laughter and his fondness for hearing stories about politics and politicians, business and businessmen. In the rare times that he passed on stories I was fortunate to be there, listening to how things were happening behind the curtains that we ordinary mortals could see beyond. His stories make me wonder about what transpires these days away from the public eye; just as earthshaking , I bet, as those that EZ told meIn his presence you didn’t sense his wealth –that is, if you didn’t focus on the size of the hacienda in Calatagan or the one hectare lot in Ayala Alabang. His homes were far more modest than those of others less wealthy than he, and – except for his helicopters and planes to move him about – he had unremarkable cars.
His meals were always tasty even if modest. And I liked the fact that he knew how I loved the glazed fried bananas his help would prepare in Calatagan -- and he would at times make sure some were available for me when I came visiting.
What I liked most about EZ was that he respected me and my views as much as I respected his. We disagreed on essays and articles and even politics but he gave me leeway to differ. Every opportunity he could take to teach me a lesson or two he would take - including meeting his bankers in Honolulu who for the life of me I didn’t ever imagine needing to call! (“Please move twenty million of my dollars to...”)
It was also interesting to see how a man like EZ loved hose closest to him. I suppose every father shows love in different ways. Some smother their kids; others think they need to be less emotional and more distant. But every father loves his kids and whether he was willing to show it openly or not, EZ loved his. I even caught him weeping once on the balcony of his Alabang house
I asked him what was troubling him and he asked me, as if in pain, “Will they ever understand?” - referring to his decision to send his then-young kids to boarding school in Europe right after his eldest died and his marriage was in trouble in the late 1960s.
That he lives on in them today is undeniable.
There are many people I miss - my parents, classmates who died too young, even my beloved Cleo. But EZ I miss specially because there can only be one boss and mentor and friend in one’s lifetime like Enrique Zobel.
Thank you for the friendship. And Happy Birthday!!