As De La Salle University culminates its first centenary and looks toward fulfilling
its dynamic vision of service in the next 100 years, it takes time to reflect on the singular life of Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, and to honor her life and work in this first exhibit for Academic Year 2012-2013
“Food for Thought: A Celebration of Good Taste,” is the DLSU Museum’s gesture of deep gratitude to its generous benefactor and her family. This exhibit translates into art and the artifacts of an irreplaceable
life the university’s charism of education through Religio, Mores, Cultura—values
of living faith through humanitarian services that touch and transform lives in the context of an evolving, rich and varied Filipino culture. All these values shine forth in the life and work of Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, compleat teacher, writer, friend and benefactor.
As an exemplar of fine taste rooted in what is good in Filipino culture, Doreen Gamboa Fernandez continues to give us the best marks of a well-thought and a well-lived life. On the 10th anniversary of her dies natalis, the DLSU Museum celebrates her life by showcasing her personal memorabilia in the midst of her books on Philippine food, literature, education, theatre and the performing arts, and the visual arts, that she and her husband Willi Fernandez collected and bequeathed to the DLSU Museum for its best educative purposes and practices.
As Doreen herself says it best in her essay in Tikim: Essays in Food and Culture, “Food, obviously, is not only for eating.” In her wisdom and fine taste, the world is truly edible and each good thing offers us the pleasure of ingesting the most nourishing food for thought.
By Marjorie Evasco
“Food for Thought: A Celebration of Good Taste,” is DLSU Museum’s gesture of deep gratitude to its generous benefactor and her family. This exhibit translates into art and the artifacts of an irreplaceable life, the university’s charism of education through Religio, Mores, Cultura—values of living faith through humanitarian service that touch and transform lives in the context of an evolving, rich and varied Filipino culture. All these values shine forth in the life and work of Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, compleat teacher, writer, friend and benefactor.
As an exemplar of fine taste rooted in what is good in Filipino culture, Doreen Gamboa Fernandez continues to give us the best marks of a well-thought and a well-lived life. On the 10th anniversary of her dies natalis, the DLSU Museum celebrates her life by showcasing her personal memorabilia in the midst of her books on Philippine literature, theatre , food, education, the performing arts, and the visual arts that she and her husband Wili Fernandez collected and bequeathed to the DLSU Museum for its best educational purposes and practices.
And while her books, as she rightly asserts, are at the core of her rich legacy, she is remembered by many grateful institutions for her time and zeal in service, whether she sat in their board of trustees, gave directions to an academic department, chose excellent compositions by her freshman students for taking up in class, or gave a lecture on the craft of interviewing.
Hers is an entire life that offers all of us food for thought not only for a day, but for life. All these, in Doreen Gamboa Fernandez’s good taste.
Doreen Gamboa Fernandez’s origins are Negrense even though she was born in Manila on the 28th of October, 1934. She was christened Alicia Dorotea Gamboa and was raised by her parents Aguinaldo Gamboa and Dr. Alicia Lucero-Gamboa in Silay, the gracious old capital of Negros Occidental, where the wealthy Lucero-Gamboa clans were engaged in the region’s burgeoning sugar industry.
Her formative education through correspondence was supervised by the Calvert School. She was seven years old at the outbreak of World War II in the country, but her education continued under private tutors. She came back to Manila after the war for her secondary education with the Benedictine sisters of St. Scholastica’s College, where she also studied piano and wrote plays. She continued her collegiate studies in the same school and in 1954 she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History, Cum Laude. Right after this she began her teaching career that would eventually span more than four decades.
Armed with her bachelor’s degree she went to Ateneo de Manila University to pursue graduate studies and took up her old love for drama by doing her master’s thesis on Christopher Fry. In 1956 she earned her M.A. in Literature (English). However, it was her course in Philippine Drama under National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, and her friendship with Nicanor Tiongson and the late National Artist for Theatre and Literature Rolando Tinio , that started her on scholarly and critical studies of Philippine culture and society. In 1976 she earned a Ph.D. in Literature (English) from the same university.
Her marriage to designer Wili Fernandez on November 26, 1958 began a lifelong partnership of many shared interests, among them collecting art and enjoying the pleasures of fine dining. Wili was known as a gourmet and his friends asked him to write food and restaurant reviews that would “make readers’ mouths water.” In a fateful decision, Wili and Doreen agreed to write a column together, dividing the task between them, where he’d eat the food and she’d write the review. Wili was the savant when it came to food, but Doreen was an avid learner, asking questions, travelling and doing research. Eventually, Doreen handled the column on her own and brought her essays on food into what she called food’s “proper context in culture.” For her, food was a portal, a way of inviting people to think about food and themselves in the light of their cultural values and notions of self and nation.
She passed away at the age of 67 in New York on Monday, June 24, 2002. Her family respected her decision not to have invasive procedures, and she had assured them and her doctors that while she didn’t want to die, she was “ready.” It was the feast day of St. John the Baptist and after receiving the last sacraments she died peacefully at 8:20 p.m. in the circle of her family and friends. Those who she loved and who loved her dearly in return understood her sense of readiness as a consequence of her protracted battle with diabetes on one hand, and her sheer appetite for living and doing her work on the other. Her illness never deterred her from travelling, teaching, researching and writing her books, and enjoying the theatre, food and conversation with family and friends.
Within the span of her illustrious life, Doreen Gamboa Fernandez had received many awards in recognition of her work, among them the 1987 National Book Award, the 1998 Metrobank Outstanding Teacher award, the 2003 Gawad Tanglaw ng Lahi award from Ateneo de Manila University, and the 2004 Gawad CCP para sa Sining. She was, in the words of her historian-friend Ambeth Ocampo, “at the vanguard of Filipino intellectuals who confronted one of the most daunting projects in Philippine academia: that of specifying and enunciating what is distinctly ‘national’ about our national culture.”
Her books were the crystallized form of her passions. Starting with her first in 1978, which was the Iloilo Zarzuela, published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press, followed by Palabas: Essays on Philippine Theatre History, then the two-volume oral history books Writers in Their Milieu (co-authored with the late Edilberto N. Alegre), published by De La Salle University Press, the books on food and culture such as Sarap: Essays on Philippine Food, Kinilaw: A Philippine Culture of Freshness (also co-authored with Alegre), Fruits of the Philippines, and Palayok:Philippine Food Through Time, on Site, in the Pot, Doreen Gamboa Fernandez wrote with verve and a graceful intelligence that clearly found delight in her chosen subjects.
And while her books, as she rightly asserts, are at the core of her rich legacy, she is remembered by many grateful institutions for her time and zeal in service, whether she sat in their board of trustees, gave directions to an academic department, chose excellent compositions of her freshman students for taking up in class, or gave a lecture on the craft of interviewing. Hers is an entire life that offers all of us food for thought not only for a day, but for life.
All these, in Doreen Gamboa Fernandez’s good taste.
Doreen Gamboa Fernandez knew that teaching was at the heart of all her lifework. “I think I am basically a teacher. Basically, completely, and thoroughly, a teacher. The other things feed into it or are born of it.” As an Outstanding Teacher in the Metrobank Search for Outstanding Teachers of 1998, Doreen G. Fernandez exemplified the inspiring teacher who, in turn, got inspired by her students’ personal and lifelong discoveries, insights and achievements. She intuitively knew how to take a teaching moment and use it to guide the student to reach her or his own threshold of transformation. This is perhaps why she knew she enjoyed teaching freshmen: “It’s so basic. Because you’re not just teaching them skills, you’re teaching them an entire attitude. You’re teaching them values, critical thinking, curiosity...You have to draw them out, draw responses, get them interested.”
When asked to think about her best legacy, Doreen Gamboa Fernandez thoughtfully considered that it would have to be her books on Philippine culture. Even while she demurs that “The food writing was really accidental...,” her many books on food in the context of Filipino lifeways, attitudes and beliefs, have opened up the taste buds of our imagination, helping us to understand how the gastronomically adventurous Filipino palate construes the world. Who among her readers did not stop the world in order to savor the pleasure of the idea she presented in Kinilaw: A Philippine Cuisine of Freshness, which yoked the experience of sweetness with freshness, the basic Filipino preference for fresh produce, be it from the garden and farm, the sky, or the sea? In her column “In Good Taste,” she regularly treated her readers to delicious language, which explored the many worlds of taste using the vocabulary of literature, the visual arts and music. And she made of us a people who delight in our hunger for the good in this world.
Always actively engaged with many aspects of life, Doreen Gamboa Fernandez was not only an outstanding teacher. More importantly, she was a high-spirited student of Philippine culture, constantly exploring uncharted spaces of the Filipino imagination, and testing, in the books she authored or co-authored with colleagues, the soundness of her insights gleaned from her scholarship. Her high school alma mater, St. Scholastica’s College Manila, gave her the Pax award in 1985, the highest honor given to an alumna. Belonging to high school class 1950, Doreen’s description in the school’s annual book of graduates can now be read as a true estimation of her sterling qualities: “...A literary genius, an excellent mathematician, a good historian, a just judge, and a worthy daughter of St. Scholastica, she is dear to the hearts of all her classmates and friends.” These qualities of the excellent learner widened and deepened in college, graduate school, and postgraduate studies, and were honed by mentors who inspired her, like National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, and colleagues like Nicanor Tiongson, the late National Artist for Theatre and Literature Rolando Tinio, and the late Edilberto N. Alegre, with whom she was in convivial exchange and dialogue.
Her friends came from all walks of life, from the fisherman-poet in whose boat she “set out with nothing but a pot of rice and some tomatoes,” to the Filipino poet in Greenwich, New York, the late National Artist for Literature Jose Garcia Villa, who declared for all time that of all his friends she was the one he would most like to keep. Doreen gave each one her quiet attention, carefully listening to what was said or left unsaid in a conversation. All of those whose lives she had touched and graced can recount the many good books she gave, dedicated and delivered personally or sent by courier, the encouraging notes, postcards, and letters she posted, the thoughtful gifts she picked up in her travels that reminded her of a particular friend’s wish or desire, and the memorable anecdotes and juicy morsels of information and gossip she loved to share in leisurely lunches, elegant dinners, and quick meriendas in-between classes. Like her former students to whom she gave a “lifetime voucher” of access to her help and advice, her friends were assured of her steadfast and unobtrusive caring presence. And from the political underground in the years of martial rule, those who had found shelter, medical care and provisions in her home, know that Doreen’s genuine kindness of spirit went beyond the categories of class and political persuasions.
Doreen Gamboa Fernandez’ gifts speak of an intelligent and luminous heart. She and her husband Wili Fernandez were epicureans, savoring life’s pleasures with the mind and body, and consistently seeking out and praising the beautiful. Among the Philippine institutions and agencies that they have supported as patrons and sponsors, De La Salle University, in particular, stands proud of having been chosen as steward of their gifts: the Wili and Doreen Fernandez Art Collection and the Wili and Doreen Fernandez Distinguished Professorial Chair in Literature, given in 2003. The university community and the Board of Trustees acknowledged their generous donation “with much admiration for the couple’s solid aesthetic sense and formidable contributions on the enjoyment of life and awareness of society.” Indeed, Wili and Doreen epitomize the example of Filipinos who, when much had been given, willingly and joyfully gave from the heart more than what was required.
Many things have been said and written about Doreen Gamboa-Fernandez, the cultural icon, historian, scholar and critic, writer, patriot and activist, teacher and friend. But not too many really know her as a Scholastican who earned her BA degree in English Literature and History from St. Scholastica’s College, Manila.
What can one say then about Doreen as a Scholastican? Definitely, a lot. In wearing her many hats, Doreen espoused the Benedictine values of “ora et labora”, of prayer and work. This was evident in her passion and commitment in what she did and lived for which she balanced with genuine compassion and love. Doreen believed in helping others, seeing Christ in them and seeking God in community. She listened with the ear of her heart and showed sensitivity to the needs of others, always respecting their rights and treating them with fairness and dignity. She made use of her infinite talents and gifts showing each one that learning throughout life is possible and important for one’s meaningful existence. These gifts were unselfishly shared with others. Yet, in the midst of enjoying her many duties and responsibilities, she had time for silence and reflective prayer, traits imbibed through many years of Benedictine education. Thus, it was more than fitting that in 1985, St. Scholastica’s College honored her with the PAX award, the highest award given to an alumna of the school. Indeed, even to this day, Doreen remains to be an epitome of a “woman for others”, an inspiration to and a pillar of strength for all of us.
Prepared by Cecile B. Gutierrez, PhD for the DLSU Museum Exhibit “Food for Thought” in honor of Doreen Gamboa-Fernandez.
21 June 2012
Doreen Gamboa Fernandez was many things to many people. Invited by bosom friend and editor-publisher Eggie Apostol to do so, she and her husband, pioneering interior designer and architect Wili Fernandez ran a popular food column long before restaurant reviews were in vogue, more interested in food in the context of culinary history than the gustatory delight of it. Wili, known gourmet had openly said that Doreen wrote, while he ate. She was a cultural researcher and wrote scholarly and popular works on Philippine culture, literary and theater history. Returning to the Ateneo graduate school for her doctoral program, she actually surprised many scholars who initially viewed her with much skepticism and was ready to dismiss this woman of wealth and means as a mere dilettante. She took such pride in the richness of Philippine culture and wanted every Filipino to be similarly proud. In recognition of her groundbreaking research, she was a posthumous Gawad CCP Awardee for the arts in 2004
Despite these accomplishments and a dozen published books, it was her role as a teacher that Doreen was proudest of. “I can’t imagine not teaching,” she had confessed. It was her sheer joy of learning and reading and writing that she wanted to pass on to her students. As a student at St. Scholastica’s, the school librarian banned her from the library because she was borrowing too many books daily, while the official quota was one book a week per student. At the Ateneo where she held many administrative positions, her last appointment as chair of the Department of Communication, she was well loved and highly esteemed.
How does one measure the life and success of a teacher? Not merely through the well-deserved and impressive Metrobank Foundation‘s Outstanding Teacher Award she received in 1998, but in how her students admired and regarded her.
By the students’ own success and achievements can a teacher be judged. Consider this roster of students Doreen had challenged and inspired and with whom she developed such a kinship that they would have regular lunch dates—truly enjoying each other’s company. Among them, Fr. Johnny Go, SJ Xavier School director; Rudy Ang, dean of the school of management in the Loyola campus; Bill Luz, political activist; Luigi Bernas, investment banker.
She knew the students who showed much promise in her classes and encouraged them to write for the newspapers. These are recognized bylines today. Ambeth Ocampo, Queena Lee Chua, Ruel de Vera.
Oh, to be so loved by one’s students that they would remember, not the drudgery of writing and learning, but the memorable experiences deliberately planned for them, all to be used as material for writing. She took them on trips to nearby Angono for its rich folk and popular culture. When the first McDonald’s first opened in downtown Manila, she took her freshman class there and placed an order of 24 of the following: burgers, fries, apple pies, fizzy drinks, all to discuss, analyze, savor, and then write about in a writing exercise back in the classroom. Others cannot forget being led to discover how to open a fish head for its thirteen distinct flavors. Another one said he never thought he was any good as a writer until Doreen herself typed all his poems and photocopied them for the class to appreciate. One considers her the best single teacher he ever had. “She was our excuse to gush,” another one said unabashedly. All are unanimous in saying, she led us to pursue our dreams.
As a tribute to Doreen on her 67th birthday on October 28, 2001, her students and friends launched two professorial chairs in her name for the Ateneo in fields of study close to her heart: Philippine culture, creative writing, and communication arts.
The wonder of it all is that Doreen did not remain a mere academician, writer, and researcher cocooned in her ivory tower. Despite her privileged lineage and affluent lifestyle, she was a conscientious worker, not allowing her failing health to disrupt the normalcy of her life. There was her signature excellence in all that she did. She was a committed citizen, active in the antI-dictatorship struggle and assisted freedom fighter friends at every turn. She was one of the founders of the Worldwide People Power Foundation, the forerunner of today’s Eggie Apostol Foundation.
I was privileged to know Doreen in a more personal way for we are maternal first cousins. (That is why it was a delight, though an emotional experience, writing Bookmark’s The Teacher, her life story for the Modern Heroes for the Filipino Youth series). The Santiago Lucero clan was a special beneficiary of her love for words, as she gifted us every Christmas for eleven years since 1985, a family newsletter representing updates for each of the eight branches of the family tree. She edited it but had a staff of septuagenarian aunts, now gone, yuppie cousins, now senior citizens, and impressionable nieces and nephews to help write and gather photos. Yes, it was like one of her real-life class publishing projects. Truly, she never stopped teaching. And in what was to be her final editorial she was prescient, looking forward to an online future issue.
How best to keep alive Doreen’s legacy? We haven’t really lost her. She lives on in her books, in our warm memories of her gentleness, in the rich and extensive Wili & Doreen Fernandez Art Collection housed in the La Salle Museum. To paraphrase Ambeth Ocampo, Doreen will live on as long as we continue to eat well, read well, write well, teach well. And her spirit will certainly live on in the Lucero Newsletter issue we are trying so hard to complete on this, the tenth year anniversary of her passing.
Prepared by Ms. Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Chair, National Book Development Board for the DLSU Museum Exhibit “Food for Thought” in honor of Doreen Gamboa-Fernandez.
The university is grateful to the family of Wili and Doreen Fernandez for this comprehensive art collection - a genuine goldmine of a teaching resource and a sanctuary for people who appreciate art. This museum collection is an integral part of Lasallian education that helps our students and community to internalize the Lasallian values of religio, mores and cultura.
Dr. Carmelita I. Quebengco AFSC
Chancellor Emeritus, De La Salle University
Member, The Museum Advisory Board
Doreen G. Fernandez was a teacher inside the classroom and out. When I was introduced to her in the early 1990s she had already a kidney transplant and (in hindsight) was on the last ten years of her life. But she bore her burden with grace and was always extending help. I still hear my friends’ remark that they want to age like Doreen. That’s probably as high compliment as one can ever pay a teacher.
Dr. Jonathan O. Chua
Chairperson Interdisciplinary Department
School of Humanities
Ateneo De Manila University
Doreen asked me, after she had written an entire volume on Philippine theater, to edit the manuscript. She wanted another eye to look over the book that was going to be digitalized. I found nothing at all wrong with the manuscript, not even typographical errors, and I felt awkward when she got CCP to pay me for what I thought was merely a favor for a friend.
Dr. Isagani R. Cruz
Critic and Playwright
Professor Emeritus and University Fellow
De La Salle University