by Henrylito D. Tacio
Photos by Tiddy Dalunan
Someone once said: “The best time to start thinking about your retirement is before the boss does.”
But the thing is, three of my bosses are not from the Philippines. Even before I retired from the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC), they had already left the country. Harold Ray Watson, the 1985 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for international understanding, retired first and returned home to Mississippi.
Jon Jeffrey Palmer, a book author and church pastor who hails from Tennessee, also left early when he headed the Baptist Global Response in Singapore. Steve Lee Musen, an agriculturist from Kentucky, also followed suit.
So, when I retired early this year, they were not around. But to my surprise, an American friend, Bradley Eivens, wrote their message for retirement. Eivens himself read the message of Watson:
“It hardly seems possible you will no longer be a part of the MBRLC!” Watson wrote. “I first met you when you requested an interview after I received the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1985. You were still a student at the college in Bansalan, and you were so nervous you could hardly sit in the chair to conduct the interview. The article you wrote, which was the first of many over the years, was entitled ‘A Hero of Sorts.’
“Thank you, Henry, for being a faithful co-worker and friend through the years and for the many speeches you helped me with. Sometimes I only gave you a title and an outline, and you took it from there.
“You have had a huge impact on making the MBRLC known – not only in the Philippines but throughout Asia. The many articles you have written through the years have publicized the Rural Life Center and told its story so thousands of Filipinos, as well as others, could be aware of what was going on at this small project in Kinuskusan, Bansalan, Davao del Sur.
“Your passion and dedication for disseminating information which would improve the lives of farmers in the uplands of the Philippines and all over Asia has been well documented through your journalistic skills.
“On behalf of the millions of upland farmers all over the world, I want to thank you for conveying hope as well as farming technologies through your God-given journalistic talents.
“Lastly, on behalf of the old MBRLC staff and the many Filipino and Asian farmers who have read your articles through the years, I want to bestow on you the same honor you gave me more than thirty years – ‘A hero of sorts’!”
Watson ended his message with these words: “May God bless you, Henry, in your retirement years, and remember: ‘The best is yet to come.’”
Palmer and his wife also received a communication from Eivens, but they weren’t able to respond a day before they received the notice, “we were out with several pressing scheduled events.”
I got an email from Palmer two days after my retirement party. “Nevertheless, both Regina and I deeply appreciate you, your friendship, and all of the great work you have done through the years. Obviously, there is no other greater decorated reporter in the history of the Philippines, and to think that he is our friend and co-worker from Bansalan!
“I don’t know if you remember, but our first meeting with you was when you were working with the youth at Bansalan Baptist Church back in the early 1980s (maybe around 1983 or 1984). We had moved to the area and lived in Bansalan, Nebrada Sub-Division, in a house rented from Pat and Maria Suson. We attended Bansalan Baptist (when we weren’t out church planting), where Monching Solana was the pastor, and you were there trying to get the youth to form a youth choir. We thought at first you were a worship/music director but found out later that your true passion and talent was journalism.
“I also remember you being at the RLC and the many times you tried to convince Sir Watson that he needed a journalist. It was your persistence and vision that led to your interesting and event-filled career!
“We left the Philippines, and our Journeyman time the summer of 1985, and by the time we returned to the MBRLC in early 1990, you had already become entrenched as the staff writer/journalist at the MBRLC and were showing signs at that time already of a unique talent.
“As the MBRLC grew into the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation (ARLDF), your skills and influence as a journalist grew. When I reflect on those days, I believe it was a symbiotic relationship in all the right ways. Just like the rhizobium living in the roots of the leguminous plant makes nitrogen and helps the plant host to grow, and just as the plant gives moisture and nutrients to the rhizobia living in its roots, you and the MBRLC/ARLDF fed each other, were mutually beneficial, and caused each other to grow in a very unique season of life for the two.
“One of my favorite memories is the day you had won some many national journalism awards; they had to create a new category to give you more awards! There are not many people who redefine the arena of their profession. You are one of those people!
“It has been an honor and pleasure to call you co-worker and friend for these almost 40 years! Again, it is hard to believe that that skinny kid from a side-street in Bansalan, would have ever impacted the Philippines and the world in the way you did!”
Through a Facebook messenger, Musen also sent his greetings.
“Henry, I’m so sorry that I wasn’t able to be at the MBRLC today to help honor you on the occasion of your retirement. I just wanted to add my expression of thanksgiving for your friendship and partnership during my family’s time in the Philippines. I am reminded of so many experiences where I enjoyed your companionship, trusted your wise counsel, and appreciated your important role in the ministries of the MBRLC and the ARLDF. I have counted you as a true friend.
“As you enter into this next phase of your life’s adventure, I hope your days are well spent in time with family, travel, and in continued productivity in the world of scientific writing. If your future journeys bring you back to the States, please know that we would love to meet up. In fact, we have a guesthouse where you would be welcome to stay as long as you want.”