“A tomb now suffices for him whom the world was not big enough” – Alexander The Great’s epitaph.
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It is not easy to pay tribute to a man I did not know and I did not know Jesse Robredo. I cannot bring him to life with stories and tales because I do not have them to recount. All I can say is how he touched our lives in ways only history will tell.
It is the mark of someone who has passed away that we remember the time, the place and the circumstance when we first heard of it. Thus it was with JFK, with Ninoy and now with Jesse. In my case it was a Saturday, a dinner with friends when I first heard that a plane had gone down and that he was missing at sea. I recall the room grow still, the lights go dim, the loss settle in.
There has been a national outpouring from all walks of life, a feeling of personal loss from people who did not know him. I guess that was the man he was, someone who attracted the love and the warmth. He was a public official one could trust, a teddy bear of a man with a forever smile and a lightness of being, the pencil mustache that in others would have been pretentious, in him conveyed a softness in a face that needed no softening.
He was a man of limited words and unlimited compassion. There are stories of his kindness, his simplicity, his honesty, his love of family, his pride at being Filipino. He was arguably the most powerful Cabinet official yet took the night bus home to Naga on weekends. With him, no was never an option, hope was always present, dreams could happen he said if we all acted with care and courage, if we all came together in a common purpose. As Jackie Onassis remarked of Robert Kennedy at his funeral, “We are all going to make it because you were there”.
Jesse was a unique civil servant who combined the best in politics and governance. In a time when our public officials are either silver-spooned politicians bred from family dynasties and the entertainment world or professionals from business, NGOs and the academe, Jesse was one in being both a self-made elected official of modest means and a technocrat. He was the son of a fishboat owner who attended Harvard, a homegrown politician who got things done. His was the timber from which a good president was waiting to be made. He was, in his ordinary way, a hero of the people.
This is his legacy: Jesse blazed a path for a new generation of leaders to take their place in the pantheon of power, men and women bred not out of privilege and money but in hard work, accomplishment and compassion. Jesse showed us the importance of nurturing a new kind of leadership in our youth. Imagine the country we would be if we just had a dozen of his kind?
We ask why a person so virtuous should be taken so young. Any answer will be inadequate, sometimes things are just what they are. Maybe Jesse died so we shall remember, remember what he stood for, like love, honor, duty, and country.
To the Robredo family we say: We are so, so sorry for the loss of your husband, your father, your son, your brother and your friend. Thank you for sharing Jesse with us at a time when we most needed him, for this we shall always be grateful. You now have him forever with you but, if we may, so will we for he shall remain eternally in our hearts and our minds.
Norman Cousins said: “The greatest loss is what dies inside of us while we live”. To Jesse we say, your passing away has diminished our light but has left us with a star to guide our journey. You have inspired us to what is possible, that ours can be a better place, that there is a right way to lead our lives, in joy, kindness, and honesty, and that service to others is the greatest and most honorable of endeavors. Your shine will always be with us.
For all this we thank you. We shall miss you.