By Ametta Taguchi *
The founding father and late director of Corpus Christi School was known by a number of names: Dr. Alfonso C. del Fierro, Jr. in academic and official functions; Alfonso and Jun to friends; and Doc to teachers who needed to cajole him to grant ticklish requests. But to most of us in the Corpus Christi School family, he was “Si Sir” or simply: SIR.
What was Sir like? In school we could easily detect the following:
Sir tended to be withdrawn.
He was tall, well-built and handsome. Like most men, he gained in good-looks and stature as he gained in years (the opposite is true of us women, how unfair).
He married the love of his life, our beloved MamCor, in the U.S.A. where he took his doctorate in Sociology in the ‘70s. A match made in heaven was everyone’s assessment of the Sir-MamCor tandem.
Sir had a sense of humor that ranged from dry to wacky. It always amazed us how, in the middle of a serious discussion, Sir would suddenly drop some outrageously zany ideas, transforming himself from boss to imp.
He had a good speaking and singing voice. Though he was diffident about it, he could command the attention of a crowd with his gift of eloquence. As for singing onstage, he was so modest about this talent that one time, when he was supposed to participate in a show but begged off, the person in charge of the program had to threaten him: “Sir, God gave you a talent! He will demand an accounting on judgment day!”
He loved to listen to music. He played the guitar, the trumpet and the piano.
He was an avid fan of basketball, especially the blue-blooded CCS Knights! However, the sport he played and loved to play was badminton.
Sir’s love for sports moved him to spearhead the sports program of Corpus Christi School. Even way back when sports events were kinder “kiddie sports” and competitions were titled “Mini Olympics”, Sir saw the potential of sports as a major program offering of the school. It was because of his support and constant improvements of the sports program that Corpus Christi School is well-known today for consistently winning top honors in various local, national and international sports competitions.
Another “love” was work related to carpentry, metal-work and masonry. Although Sir was a sociologist, he had an extensive, practical and hands-on know-how about building construction and the latest industrial tools. Engineering could have been his second profession.
Not so “loved” were clothes. Sir dressed so simply that in one school year the plan of the men in the high school faculty to wear a necktie had to be junked: How could they be wearing a tie when the school director dubbed it “a suicide noose” and refused to sport the new “executive look” uniform after trying it for one day? How could they be in formal black pants and long-sleeved shirt when the boss would be inspecting the school premises in faded pants and loose polo shirt, texting on a cracked analog cellphone held together for dear life with a rubber-band.
His well-worn clothes such as his favorite blue and black and black and green checkered shirts, which he wouldn’t give up even though his closet was well-stocked with new clothes, were a vexation to the younger generation of his family. In reply, he would say to anyone who advised him to buy an i-phone and be a fashion plate: “The important thing is comfort!”
Another vexation, especially to daughter Marla, was his genuine leather Samsonite briefcase which he bought maybe in the late 1960s. “Dad, please buy a new sleek, more efficient briefcase! That thing looks like a maleta!” Oops, Teacher Marla, that briefcase is now a rare collector’s item. His analog phone, too, will someday be a museum piece.
In a conversation we had, Sir opined that high-tech phones and computer technology in general did not make work more efficient; on the contrary, they made something simple complicated. To illustrate his point, he cited a case in which a book center staff worker tried to contact a person, who had no landline phone, through two phones, her smart-phone and also through an analog phone. Three hours passed; the person could not be contacted. So Sir, fumed: “Why don’t you GO to that person! Take a MOTOR CAB!” The job was done in around fifteen minutes. I’ve personally experienced this situation many times.
We also knew Sir as a man of few words. At times his terse manner of speaking bit when “biting” was in order. He could not stand beating around the bush with charming diplomacy when action was of the utmost necessity. For example, one day I consulted him about a problem. Looking at me straight in the eye, he said, “Your problem is self-made. You know the solution. Do it.”
Another time, a senator’s wife proposed a joint project with Corpus Christi School. Sir found the proposal unfeasible and turned it down on the spot. The lady appreciated Sir’s frankness and said, “Jun is the only person I know in Cagayan de Oro who does not make paligoy-ligoy to keep you hanging. Yes is yes; no is no.”
Sir’s vigilance over money-spending was legendary. In one stage decoration work, we howled at how a request for 60 rolls of masking tape got cut down to 30 rolls. But afterwards, we smiled sheepishly because 30 rolls turned out to be sufficient. Today amidst the Covid 19 pandemic when all of us need to economize, we are big fans of Sir because he was so right about being as frugal as possible.
Which brings us to Sir’s highest preoccupation on safety and stability. Between the two, safety, on which stability stands, was his primary objective.
I remember when the high school campus was under construction, one of the workmen found a cobra. The cobra was killed, but Sir was not satisfied. He asked, what was a full-grown cobra doing in the premises? Was it just passing through, or was it a resident? Was it male or female? If female, were there eggs in the grass? The grounds were thoroughly searched and cleared.
That incident came back to my mind last March when Sir closed the school on the day the presence of Covid19 in Cagayan de Oro was confirmed. Nothing could persuade him to postpone the closure to the following day for the sake of convenience. For preferring safety over convenience, Sir received accolades on the internet, and Corpus Christi School stood out as the first school in Cagayan de Oro to respond pro-actively to the Covid19 crisis.
So far we are remembering Sir as we knew him externally: tough, logical, straightforward, unyielding.
Unyielding? Really? Wrong.
There are many testimonials to Sir’s hidden soft side. Needless to say, he loved his family very much. In particular, the fortress that was Sir turned to putty whenever granddaughter Lia was around.
Another “soft spot” of Sir (and MamCor too) was Couples for Christ – Gawad Kalinga. To put it succinctly, daughter Marla once said, “He and Mom are CRAZY about Couples for Christ!” Sir’s passion and “extra mile” for this organization was immeasurable. This is a well-known fact.
Not so well-known is that Sir was not only a devoted husband and father but also a devoted son: he took good care of his mother. He saw to it that she was always well-provided. When she passed away at 92, I paid my respects. Outside the room in Cosmopolitan Funeral Homes where Mama laid in state, I said a few words of consolation to Sir. He turned away to hide the tears in his eyes, which made me teary too because it was the first time I saw Sir expose his emotional vulnerability. It was a privileged moment, and I treasure the memory.
This vulnerability came to the fore in private. Many people don’t know, because Sir never bragged, about the times he, the fortress, came tumbling down for people in dire need. The testimonials on this matter are too confidential to mention here, but you will surely be amazed at how generous Sir was to people who had no one else to turn to.
To me, however, Sir best exemplified what it means to be vulnerable to compassion and mercy, in his acts of forgiveness. It’s not easy to talk about getting hurt. Let’s just say, when one is at the helm of a large organization, getting hurt by someone is inevitable; to be expected even. Getting hurt happens to all of us. Our instinctive response is to hit back. Sir, however, opted for forgiveness rather than redress. I believe this is the most difficult standard of our Faith to follow.
I am learning from Sir. To be candid, I am hurting right now. The wild cat in me is bristling for a fight. But I have decided to forgive the person who has hurt me because Sir, now our mentor in heaven, is telling me, “Let go of that bitterness! You can’t take it with you when you die!”
Sir liked to talk about death merrily, as though he were already on the gangplank of the merry cruise ship to eternity. Grandson Jigo recalls his lolo saying way-back when he was a kid: “Jigo, I pray I reach 70. I’m ready to die anytime.”
Someone once said that God takes us home at the best moment.
One day at noontime– I think it was in January–I went to the San Agustin Cathedral. I saw Sir all by himself attending a weekday Mass. He was wearing a white polo shirt and light khaki pants. I dabble in theatre, so when Sir stood up for the gospel reading, I was struck by how his light-colored clothing set him apart from the mish-mash of colors within the church. He was at the lower left side of the church which, in stage blocking, is oftentimes reserved for bold statements. My God, Sir was perfectly costumed and stage -blocked! I was watching the dramatic scene of a man needing to be with his Lord and Master in the middle of a busy workday!
As I stared at the scene, everything I knew about Sir, apart from what I’ve written above, came rushing in. During Consecration, this thought crossed my mind: Sir is at his peak as a follower of Jesus. Sir is at his best moment. Sir is ready to go home anytime. Was it a premonition?
We always like to say, death is natural; all of us will die; what’s the big hullaballoo?! But when someone we love does die, we get crashed.
That’s what happened when text messages came about Sir’s hospital confinement and death on the week of Jesus Christ’s passion and death. The last time we saw Sir in school, he was in the pink of health and behaved like a commander in chief in the war against Covid19. So you can imagine how shocked we were!
From what we have gathered, Sir did not experience excruciating pain from the sepsis that could not be controlled and took his life. There were even moments of banter in the hospital, such as son Mark joking, “Dad, you better get well soon because you need a haircut!”
Sir slipped into unconsciousness and passed away on Holy Thursday, April 9.
Before he left us, MamCor talked to Sir on the phone. We are not privy to what MamCor said, but knowing her we can surmise that she comforted her husband with words of love–and helped him cross over peacefully.
This is an article about Sir but my fingers are itching to insert something about MamCor. MamCor is the only person I know who can turn the most turbulent situation into quiet peace with her conviction that everything is going to be all right. Sir may have experienced some turbulence at the cross-over, but MamCor’s voice may have assured him not to be afraid.
Someone remarked that Sir’s peaceful last days on earth and his Spartan send-off were exactly what he wanted. Due to the quarantine, only a limited number of people could say goodbye to Sir in the chapel of Xavier Estates and at his interment in Oro Gardens. The simple funeral suited the man who shunned fanfare. It’s easy to imagine Sir laughing in his coffin: “Guys, thanks to a virus, you can’t put me in the Corpus gym for the whole world to look at and comment on how handsome and alive I look!”
I wasn’t there: I was exposed to someone sick. A doctor advised that it was best for me to stay away. Without internet connection, I was furthermore shut out from the online tributes and memorial service of the Corpus Christi School family. It was frustrating not to be able to personally condole with MamCor and Family and be present at the marking of a mournful milestone in the history of Corpus Christi School. In normal times, I never miss participating in the events of the school.
But wait a minute! We are not in “normal times”. There is still room for condolences from us who were halted by the unseen enemy, for grieving does not end abruptly. As Teacher Marla put it recently, “There are good days and there are bad days.” This is a ladylike understatement.
May the bad days be salved by remembrances of the achievements, significant events and loving encounters with Sir, for it is said that what the dead wants is prayers—and to be remembered. We get connected to our departed loved ones this way. Jesus Himself told us so in his last supper on earth.
In line with that, let me now disclose a secret. I always, always remember Sir every time I see Corpus Christi School Pueblo Campus. Since it began to be painted after construction, my heart skips a beat every time I see it. You know why? It’s painted brown and cream, my favorite colors—Sir’s favorite colors! How many people do you know whose favorite color is brown? Maybe only Sir and this writer.
And so, nowadays whenever I see Corpus Pueblo, I smile and tell myself: there is my fortress of stability and safety, and Sir painted it brown for me!
There is my remembrance and connection to Sir.
* Ametta Taguchi is a Palanca Awardee and an educator of Corpus Christi Grade School.