Mr. Wash goes to Club Mwah
Theirs was a friendship that was as beautiful as it was unlikely.
He was a revered titan in the Philippine corporate world, with his name occupying many pages in the history books of some of the country’s largest corporations, while the other made a name for himself in the lively local entertainment scene, more comfortable with pliés and arabasques than debits and credits.
And yet, despite their obvious differences, the late Washington SyCip and Pocholo Malillin, executive producer and vice president of Club Mwah, home of the fabulous Follies de Mwah, developed an unexpected yet close relationship that Malillin reflects on with mixed emotions following the passing of SyCip at 96 years old earlier this month.
“We were deeply saddened by the news that he had died,” Malillin tells the Inquirer in Filipino, “A big part of the success of Club Mwah we owe to Mr. Wash. He was a great believer and it was he who introduced us to the upper-income market. He was also tireless in endorsing us to corporations so that they will have some of their events with us.”
The personal and professional relationship started innocently enough in 2004 when SyCip was brought for the first time to Club Mwah on Boni Ave., Mandaluyong City by his good friend and designer Jean Golbourn, who had already been a regular of the club that boasts of a world-class show that can rival those in Las Vegas, New York and Paris.
“Jean called me up and told me, ‘Pocholo, prepare a table for 10 for Wash SyCip.’ His name was familiar but I did not really know him. Then we were introduced and we immediately had a long chat. His voice was very soft and I thought that he was very humble considering who he was. It all started from there,” says Malillin.
SyCip attentively watched the extravagant show put on by the unparalleled Follies de Mwah and at the end of the show, he congratulated Malillin on a job well done.
“He said he was very much impressed by the venue, the state of the art interiors and the production numbers. Mr. Wash took note of the costumes, choreography and the dancers. He had watched similar shows abroad and he said he was amazed by ours,” says Malillin.
SyCip went back frequently to Club Mwah and over the years brought with him former presidents, ambassadors, corporate executives, embassy officials as well as close friends and family.
“He would usually bring them over to Club Mwah after dinner at his house. He would always pay the bill and leave a nice tip for the waiters,” recalls Malillin.
The book “Wash: Only a Bookkeeper” had an anecdote about the time SyCip hosted a dinner with friends who included former President Corazon Aquino and Phinma CEO Ramon del Rosario Jr. and then brought them over to Club Mwah for some entertainment for added dessert.
And to the delight of the Follies de Mwah, their Mr. Wash and Tita Cory joined them during the curtain call that night.
A favorite memory of Malillin is SyCip personally asking him to put together a show for his grand 93rd birthday celebration at the Makati Shangri-La.
“I sat down with him and he said, put together a production number with around the world as the theme. Start with the Philippines and then feature different costumes and dances from other countries and then end with the singkil of the Philippines,” says Malillin.
“And so we did. We chose 10 countries plus the Philippines. The ballroom was so full of people. Almost everybody who was anybody was there. At the end of the celebration, Mr. Wash thanked us in his speech. We were the last ones he mentioned and thanked,” says Malillin.
The veteran performer also recalls how SyCip took the time and the effort to support them during Club Mwah’s grand finale performance at the end of the two-month series of performances at the Resorts World Hotel in 2014.
“Three weeks before the event, I invited him to be our special guest of honor. Unfortunately, he said he would be abroad but that he would try to be back in time for the show. Given his schedule, I really did not expect him to be there. But he was. He went straight to our event from the airport. He was able to watch the show,” says Malillin.
And not only did he get there in time. SyCip also took the time to ask his secretary to buy bouquets for the Follies.
“I was so touched. I could not believe that he had just arrived and decided to go to our show. He even finished it. When I asked him to go up the stage and give a message, he gave a very short but meaningful one. He said, ‘I am 91 and still surviving because of Club Mwah.’ Everybody applauded. That was how much he loved us,” says Malillin.
And their relationship went beyond the four walls of Club Mwah, which is on its way to celebrating its 15th anniversary. Malillin says he would just call Mr. Wash on his direct line out of the blue just to ask how he’s doing. He would also visit him in his Makati office once in a while, and bring with him a little gift just to show his appreciation for the love and support for Club Mwah.
“In recent years, he talked very slowly and softly. I could hardly understand what he was saying but I pretended that I did. I was also extra careful every time I am in his office because of his art collection from different countries. Sometimes, when I don’t have a driver to take me back to the club, he would ask his own driver to give me a ride,” says Malillin, who’s now in his 70s.
Malillin says he will treasure those many memories with SyCip even more now that he is gone. He will also continue to take to heart the many pieces of business advice that SyCip gave him, to help sustain the success of the peerless Club Mwah.
“He always told me to take care of the food that we serve. He even suggested some additions to the menu and what wine we should serve. He was very particular about the wine and how it was served. Mr. Wash said we should make sure that our plates, utensils and wine glasses are always clean for our guests,” he says.
“Mr. Wash also told me to always take care of our clients, give them the best service and that we should always innovate, enhance our production numbers. He told us to change our performances every six months to give our clients something new to look forward to every time. He was also particular about the venue. It should be fresh and clean, especially the comfort rooms. The frontliners like the waiters should also be well trained,” Malillin adds.
It has been weeks since the passing of SyCip and the indefatigable executive producer of Club Mwah is raring to attend the services for the well-loved founder of SGV & Co., director of numerous companies and founder of such institutions as the Asian Institute of Management.
In time, Club Mwah will have its own tribute for its beloved Mr. Wash.
“We will always treasure his love and support and the memories accumulated over all these years. I will miss his smile and I am sad that I can no longer pick up the phone and call him. But we will be comforted by the thought that his spirit will always be here to guide all of us at Club Mwah,” says Malillin.
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