by Louie Anthony Labayen, June 12, 2020
My name is Louie Anthony Labayen known as Antonio. I am the eldest son. I have a revelation to make. A ghost is coming out of the darkness. For behind every prepared speech and invocation that Dad delivered was my pen crafting the words. I was his ghost writer. I am honored to write perhaps the ultimate speech I deliver on his behalf. I wish to give you glimpses into his remarkable life.
Wilfredo was born on October 12, 1934 in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental Province, Philippines. He was the sixth of nine children with only one girl and was the first one born in the new family home in Bacolod at the corner of Mabini and Ciocon Streets. He was known as Sonny. His baptismal godmother was Amelia Díaz Lacson.
The ancestral family had roots in Iloilo Province across the strait. The Spaniards saw the fertile plains of Negros Occidental Province surrounding Mt Kanlaón volcano and taught the people how to cultivate sugar cane. His parents Julio Díaz Labayen and Mercedes Alunan Lizares-Labayen established their residence in a farm in Talisay, Negros Occidental. Five children were born in that home with a midwife.
Julio predicted that Bacolod was going to become the provincial capital city. He decided to move the family to Bacolod. This was a new move for the family from the next town Talisay. The new home had a tall, front concrete staircase leading to the main level from the street level. Under the house were large concrete tanks for water storage. Across the street from the new Bacolod house was the new electric plant that his father Julio built, one of the first three built in the province for his mother’s company, Díaz Electric Co.
Sonny went to Mabini Elementary School just a few blocks south. At the outbreak of the Japanese invasion during World War II on the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor invasion in Hawaii, Sonny was 7 years old. The family had to dig a well when water became scarce. Sonny was the smallest capable one, so he was at the bottom of the well digging out the dirt. The Japanese planes bombed his school and all the shrapnel ejected sideways. Fortunately, the electric plant shielded the family home from all shrapnel, sparing them.
As the family was traveling from Talisay to Bacolod in the family car, the Japanese ambushed them and confiscated his father Julio’s handgun. The Japanese demanded control of the electric plants. In turn, they gave the family extra special treatment and even shared meals in the family home. The kids played as usual around the electric plant machinery and the soldiers spanked them for such dangerous actions. This was the extent of any physical sanctions the soldiers did to the family. In contrast, other civilians were treated with much merciless violence like extraction of fingernails to pry any secretive information they could.
Come liberation time, the United States Infantry soldiers after the Leyte landing, landed in the south of the province. The Japanese destroyed bridges crossing the rivers, but were not able to destroy a strategic bridge that enabled the US Infantry to march onward north to Bacolod City. The Japanese ordered a kill and burn massacre before escaping. The family was spared.
In his later teens, Sonny worked as a mechanic for Ford Motors and was promoted several times, eventually to manage parts and inventory and other administrative work. His employer had a daughter who developed a possessive relationship with him, until later the only option he saw was to escape to Manila.
His oldest brother Eduardo studied in Manila and his older brother Julio Jr upon liberation joined the Discalced Carmelite Friars of Washington Province at Holy HIll in Hubertus, Wisconsin. Sonny was the first in the family to emigrate out of Bacolod. He could not afford a fare for the ship to travel by sea between the islands. He went to the rooftop of the superstructure and tied his legs to the mast to keep him from falling overboard.
In Manila, he again worked as a mechanic to pay for his expenses and attend college at the University of the East, majoring in Economics. He smelled of oil, grease and fuel attending class. He found employment with Mr Hadji Kalaw at Commercial Credit Corporation CCC as a clerk. At that point, only lacking his Spanish language credits for graduation, he discontinued studies.
He bought his first scooter, a Lambretta from Italy, as his transportation and leisure with the scooter club. He became known as Fred. At CCC, he met Rose Jocelyn (Josie) Ocampo López, from Tayabas, Quezon Province, another clerk. She was the granddaughter of past Governor Domingo López and the second of eleven children. Fred would fix her typewriter whenever it breaks. I wouldn’t be surprised if she broke her typewriter often.
Fred and Josie married on February 14, 1959 at the San Miguel Pro Cathedral National Shrine. The wedding, traditionally timed with the sunrise, and practically to end the required midnight fasting, was presided at 6:00 am by Bishop Hernando Antiporda. Breakfast reception was at a hall owned by the Aristocrat Restaurant along Roxas Blvd, then known as Dewey Blvd, along the coast of scenic Manila Bay. Cost of the reception was PHP 2.00 or USD 1.00 per head. They honeymooned in Bacolod City. It was Josie’s first plane ride, and she easily experiences motion sickness.
They lived in a small apartment in the Sampaloc District of Manila near the University of Santo Tomas, the Pontifical University established by the Spanish Crown in 1611. It has famed faculties run by the Order of Preachers of St. Dominic. Their first born Louie Anthony (Antonio) was born in this hospital on January 17, 1960. Fr. Julio Xavier (Nonoy) Labayen, OCD, was ordained at the Teresianum in Rome, Italy, in 1955 and baptized Antonio at the San Miguel Pro Cathedral with Josie’s older brother Oscar as godfather. Fr. Xavier (Uncle / Tioy Nonoy) was Antonio’s godfather for confirmation by Bishop Hernando Antiporda.
The family celebrated the Saturday Vigil Mass and visited Josie’s parents Lolo Rodolfo (Dolfo) and Mama Lilia every Sunday lunch. These were a high priority routine for the family that continued over the years. The younger López siblings were just a few years older than their boys, so they grew up as playmates.
In 1961, they moved to a second-floor apartment on 1704 Donada St, Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines. This is very near the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, De La Salle College, and Manila Bay. To make ends meet, they accepted student boarders. Fred’s parents Julio (Grandfather / Lolo Juling) and Mercedes (Grandmother / Lola Eding) came from Bacolod City to live with them. Josie, a Tagalog speaker, then started learning the household language Ilonggo and taught Antonio English.
It was about this time that Fred’s younger brother Norberto (Bert) also emigrated to Manila, married Teresita (Terry) Jalbuena from Jaro, Iloilo Province and moved a few doors south. They had their firstborn child. Fred and Josie had their second child Edward John (J) was born at San Juan de Dios Hospital along Dewey Blvd on June 20, 1962.
During this time, Fred and Josie had a taxi business on the side with a handful of cars and acquired their first family automobiles. He was handy with many things, especially home repair and comes up with many creative solutions that while not too elegant, would save the replacement cost. He was very good with the honey do list.
Tioy Nonoy was consecrated as bishop during this time and installed at the Prelature of Infanta, Quezon. Antonio had to stay behind for his final exams. He was given a choice of school to enter first grade. He chose the nearby De La Salle College run by the Christian Brothers of St Jean Baptiste de la Salle, where their student boarders studied.
The area often flooded during the monsoon season, requiring them to step on chairs to the cars. They soon looked towards living in the suburban areas. They found a rather remote area at that time in Parañaque, a newly established subdivision named Sun Valley, a 75-hectare / 185 acre area with less than 100 houses. Architect Lorenzo Regino designed the house and they had some challenges making the final cost of the house. They moved in on New Year’s Day 1967. The master bedroom and the boys’ room were upstairs. Lolo and Lola had their bedroom on the ground level, and the male and female servants quarters were at the back on the ground level.
There was a special guest room upstairs that was mainly reserved for Tioy Nonoy, who now stayed with the family whenever he was in Manila. He was soon appointed as the Spiritual Assistant to the Carmelite Nuns in the Philippines, and they were pioneers in forming a federation. The federation often had their meetings at the Sun Valley home. With Sonny’s acumen in finance, Tioy Nonoy requested him to advise the nuns in their financial affairs.
Being in a remote area, there were frequent encounters with snakes. There were no phone lines yet. Fred fought the bureaucracy to have the roads paved, even if he had to take legal action. Having a home in Metro Manila was somewhat of a status like having a boat. Labayen extended family from Bacolod would stay with Fred and Josie while transacting business in Manila. Bert and Terry constructed their house next door. The two houses had adjoining terraces for free movement between the houses. Jalbuena extended family from Jaro would stay with Bert and Terry when visiting Manila.
A homeowners’ association was established, and a community center was built in the park. Residents went to church in various places outside the subdivision. Fred made the initiative to seek out a priest to come and celebrate mass every Sunday at the community center. He found a Belgian priest at the San Carlos Major Seminary, Fr. Eugene Flameigh, CICM, (Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary), professor of church history. His homilies were very engaging and interestingly rich in history. With no music for mass, the boys gathered the neighborhood kids and started a choir with guitar accompaniment.
CCC later partnered with CIT Compagnia Italiana Turismo to finance European travel for Philippine Tourists. He was invited for an extended, extensive tour of European countries with CIT. One of the supreme highlights of this tour was having an audience with Padre Pio, to whom he has lifelong devotion. He proceeded to the United States of America to visit Josie’s sister in San Antonio, Texas. Departing Texas while he was enjoying a delicious steak meal, their flight was hijacked and headed for Cuba. The pilot eventually talked the hijacker to submission and they landed in Miami, Florida.
CCC had much growth with Fred as Vice President of Franchising. He traveled extensively throughout the Philippines by air and land and to Bangkok, Thailand. Josie traveled to audit the franchises, checking herself in to the hospital in some remote places where hotels had questionable sanitation.
Fred was an avid golf enthusiast as a company-sponsored sport to promote business. He traveled with golf clubs and played various designer-built challenging courses two to three times per week. He honed his handicap over the years and at his peak was about a 5 handicap. The family enjoyed company-paid country club memberships with swimming, tennis, bowling, dining and other activities besides golf. Tioy Nonoy joined the family whenever he had the opportunity.
Daughter Rose Jocelyn Marie was born on January 14, 1968 at San Juan de Dios Hospital. Upon reaching school age, she entered St Scholastica’s College for girls run by the Benedictine Sisters, a block away from De La Salle College for boys that the boys attended.
The Sun Valley home did not have a girls’ room. In planning for aging, Fred and Josie converted the ground level activity den to their bedroom and gave their master bedroom with dressing room and bathroom to Rose.
The boys were active in the Boy Scouts and Fred joined the Father-Son camps. The Dads had even more fun than the scouts. The girls were active in ballet.
Fred was invited sometime on an executive yachting excursion around the large natural harbor of Manila Bay. Near the mouth of the bay in shark-infested waters, the engine stalled and the crew could not get it restarted. They were starting to drift to the very rough open waters of the South China Sea. Being the mechanic that he was, Fred tried his hand on a marine engine. After some time, he was able to revive the engine and they were on their way home.
In 1971, the family made a vacation trip to the cities of Cebu, Davao and Zamboanga, visiting Zamboanga Carmel and meeting the Dionio family who are very close to Carmel.
On September 21, 1972, Philippine President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos towards the end of his second and last term, declared Martial Law and continued on indefinitely as dictator. His dictatorship suspended the writ of habeas corpus, requiring only suspicion of crime for conviction, seized many private enterprises, controlled the media, suppressed the freedom of the press, established curfew, and restricted travel among many other controls.
Lolo Juling and Lola Eding celebrated their Golden Jubilee of Marriage in Bacolod City in 1973. Shortly after, Lolo Juling went into a long coma and died of bone marrow cancer.
Daughter Maria Victoria (Mavy) was born on December 29, 1974 and looked very much like Lolo Juling. She also later attended St Scholastica’s College.
Fred joined the newly formed Parañaque Rotary Club. In 1976, Antonio was accepted to the Rotary International Exchange Student Program in Ohio. Fred traveled with him to take him there, presenting himself as a representative of the Philippine Baseball Association to present a recognition award to Los Angeles Dodgers Peter O’Malley. At the conclusion of the school year, Antonio was accepted to study music in Rome, Italy. Fred, Josie and J had to join a pilgrimage group to the United States in order to travel to attend Antonio’s graduation and take him to Rome, Italy and then make a European tour to Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Geneva, and Zurich.
Daughter Patricia Marie (Patt), named after Josie’s teacher at Maryknoll Sr Patricia Marie, was born on March 15, 1978. Fred and Josie proudly say that she was made in Switzerland. At school age, there was now a Montessori school in Sun Valley that she attended for preschool. Like the elder girls, she entered St Scholastica’s College from kindergarten. With five children now in each of the adjoining homes of Fred, Josie, Bert and Terry, plus their respective household staff, there were about twenty residents altogether, plus many transient visitors in both homes that could put the total to about forty. Everybody was welcome. They arrive and we figure it out later. Many times, there were not enough beds. Fred would always say, there is plenty of floor space and plenty of food. Josie referred to the house as an international airport. That is why the gathering song selected for the funeral mass, “Table of Plenty” is so appropriate: Come and eat without money; Come to drink without price.
Fred was elected president of the Parañaque Rotary Club and enlisted Antonio to ghost-write his speeches. Leading to this and from then, he was ever more active in Rotary International.
CCC was starting to have some organizational and financial challenges. Fred and Josie worked there for 25 years and later had to seek employment elsewhere. Fred retired as President of the Equity Company; and, Josie retired as Chief Financial Officer. They celebrated their 25th anniversary with a trip to Legazpi City in Albay, Bicol Region.
In 1984, Antonio left for the United States to pursue graduate studies in music. J was accepted to the United States Navy in 1987 and left for the United States. Rose followed in 1993 and married a Navy man from a dairy farming family from Minnesota. Mavy followed in 1995 and Fred and Josie followed with Patricia in 2007 and help her settle and live together. With the family now fully migrated to the United States, Tioy Nonoy moved to Alagad ni Maria Seminary in Antipolo of the order of priests that he founded.
Patricia found employment in Chicago, too cold a climate for Josie, so they continued to live with Antonio and his two sons in Gig Harbor, Washington and became parishioners of St Nicholas Church. Antonio’s photography client Galaxy Theatres was looking for a senior citizen to be an Ambassador and Greeter as the welcoming face of Galaxy to the public. They hired Fred. He worked there for ten years and was well-loved by everyone. He also worked for Costco to demo food items. Besides being very popular with shoppers, he also consistently exceeded and topped sales expectations. Galaxy Theatres CEO Frank Rimkus at their California headquarters is a Rotarian and sponsored Fred to join the Rotary Club of Gig Harbor to represent Galaxy Theatres. Fred was well-loved by Rotarians and became a Paul Harris Fellow. At Galaxy Theatres, he had a rock-star status and was known as Mr. Gig Harbor. The Kitsap Sun has an archived article on Fred with the link in the obituary. http://archive.kitsapsun.com/news/local/meet-the-ambassador-of-the-galaxy-ep-420073212-357779311.html
Both Fred and Josie were active volunteers in the Gig Harbor Peninsula Symphony Orchestra that Antonio founded. Fred promoted the events and the image of the symphony and Josie provided guidance to the financial volunteers for events.
Fred, Josie and Antonio became United States citizens and acquired dual-citizenship with the Philippines. This was advantageous for benefits and property ownership, besides travel flexibility. They eventually moved to Lakewood, Washington and became parishioners at St Frances Cabrini.
Fred’s kidney condition worsened and he chose the extraordinary measure of peritoneal dialysis. At that point, he was no longer capable of working. He stayed home with Josie and as always ran errands for her, as she does not drive. His blood pressure had become regularly low and at one point he collapsed outside Rite Aid. Two elderly persons helped him up. He drove home and collapsed as soon as he exited the car. The resulting hospital stay was one of many, past and future.
The COVID-19 pandemic broke out in early 2020. There were many restrictions and measures put in place that affected all aspects of society worldwide.
Josie experienced a hemorrhagic stroke the week before Easter 2020. Fred visited her everyday. Due to COVID-19, only one visitor was allowed per day. When Antonio visited and Fred could not visit, Josie would ask for Fred. Antonio visited on Saturdays and the other days was on the phone with the medical professionals.
The week before Mother’s Day 2020, Fred developed complications with his dialysis and felt that he was drowning in fluid. Antonio took him to the hospital. In spite of many measures in place, his low blood pressure could not be increased. He was put on dopamine intravenous medication in the Critical Care Unit. The cardiologist and nephrologist made their assessments. The heart and kidney both at only 15% function would not be able to sustain life. His legs cramp often with decreased circulation and his internal organs are atrophying with lack of blood flow. Any procedure would not result in any dramatic improvements and would be extremely high risk for him. He would not even be able to survive anesthesia.
With this, he accepted his fate, he is at peace, yet still inquisitive of any glimmer of hope for a medical procedure. Fr Jerry Burns of St Andrew Catholic Church in Sumner gave him an examination of conscience, heard his confession, administered Extreme Unction / Anointing of the Sick, and the Viaticum / Final Holy Communion.
Through all this, he kept his wit and humor. During the family video call, he kidded his daughter-in-law Tonette that he is now skinnier than she is. He hardly ate for the first two weeks in the hospital and lost 1 lb a day. His thighs now showed the outline of the bones. He even sang, “So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen Goodbye” from “The Sound of Music” and the nurse said that he is the cutest dying patient she’s had. On the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven, he was weaned off dopamine.
One week of dopamine put him on a very bright mood. He regained and had a surge of appetite. He requested each day for each of his favorite foods. The family had a feast in his hospital room day-by-day and continued on to his discharge to home, as he was stable enough. A hospital bed, oxygen and other Durable Medical Equipment were delivered in time to fulfill his final wish to die at home with his children holding his hand at his last breath.
Friday, May 29th, he felt well enough to go out, enjoy the weather and visit Josie one final time under the breezeway of the nursing home. No visitors are allowed under COVID-19, and they made an exception for a visit from Josie’s dying husband. It was also the first and last time that they were together with the necessary papers, identification, witness and mobile notary to designate their firstborn Antonio as their attorney-in-fact to administer their affairs. Fred kissed Josie farewell. As William Shakespeare wrote in his play, “Othello, the Moor of Venice” and I paraphrase, “A kiss, yet another kiss, to die upon a final kiss!” Music brings words to life, and I sing to you this passage from Verdi’s Italian Opera, “Otello” that sings of bacio, meaning kiss. “Un bacio; un bacio ancora; un’altro bacio.” And Othello dies upon a kiss.
The weekend that followed showed expected dominant signs of imminent death. The night before he died, he called Mom in spite of no longer being able to sustain a conversation. Strangely he said, he was having merienda, a snack, probably already with his departed family. He only complained of pain on the last morning. On Tuesday, June 2nd, at 7:40 am, he breathed his last while all five children surrounded him in prayer, and each stage of his death was accompanied by the corresponding prayer for the dying. On his final journey, the family spared nothing to make sure he travels to the place the Lord prepared for him. At each stage of life and death, he received all prayers, novenas, rosaries, rites, and sacraments.
Wherever in the world he was, people are touched by his positive attitude, his bright face and eyes that shine forth from his dark complexion, his wit and humor, warm personality and always being there for people. He administered many affairs of the extended family. He opened employment and opportunities to many extended family members and friends. He will be missed in this world, and welcomed by those who preceded him in heaven.
It was so wonderful that he was able to call most of those he knows and bid them a final farewell. This was the most touching part of his death. He heard everyone’s tributes and responded to them. He chose the charity he founded, Rotary Cleft Palate Repair, that mourners can donate to in lieu of flowers. He even enjoyed his own feasts, as in the Philippines, there is a feast at the home of the deceased in his wake. He chose his urn; and, his columbarium in the Philippines had been pre-arranged many years before. He requested that his cremated remains be brought there later.
Every time Dad leaves the house, he kisses Mom so lovingly on the lips through 61 years of marriage. Did they ever quarrel? The children can attest to many of those, even so severe that could break a marriage. But they kept their faith, hope and love. As a priest once said, “The symbol of love is not the heart, but the cross; for the heart stops beating, yet the man on the cross keeps on loving.” The word love is a verb, a commitment manifested in actions and sacrifice, that only then strengthens the emotion of love. To die upon a kiss is to love to the very end, until death do us part.
In the end, when everything is overwhelming and insurmountable, in the darkest of nights when we cannot even see our hand in front of us, it is only faith that guides us through the dark night. The fortitude of our faith, determined by our hope, strengthened by our love of God is what leads us onwards and produces works of charity. Dad had faith in his actions. I took him to church even not feeling well. I would take his arm to assist him and he would take it back. He had deep-seated faith within. He had a profound relationship with the Lord to die in peace.
Let not his memory slowly fade away into oblivion, for then his life and death would be in vain. Let the tender moments of his memory live on and flourish in generations to come, as a model for kindness, generosity, ethics, determined faith, and most of all, marital love until death do us part.
Dad’s first journey was on the rooftop of a ship with his legs tied to the mast. He never traveled first class. The family spared nothing for his final journey on All Saints Class on Angels Wings Airways. To steer away from the storms of Satan is flight captain St Michael the Archangel. To control the flight against turbulent distress is the healer first officer St Raphael the Archangel. To navigate the glorious path to heaven is the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. And to provide him comfort in the cabin is Chief Steward St Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.
We bid him farewell not to succumb to these ashes, for those are merely his mortal, sacred remains. We believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Let us not be sorrowful that he leaves us. Let us rejoice that he resurrects to new life everlasting in Christ Jesus.
Sonny / Fred bids his final farewell for his final journey from the song he sang at the hospital from “The Sound of Music”. Listen attentively, as you will sing a response at the end. “The Lord has called me so I must abide. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen goodbye. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye! [Response:] Goodbye.”