Augusto de Leon, nation builder and family man
I often chatted with Augusto L. de Leon about the state of Philippine science. He spoke authoritatively, with insights that only a board member of top science groups would know.
I thought Uncle Gus was a scientist, but he majored in business. The ultimate Renaissance man, he knew the ins and outs of corporations, systems, technology, agriculture and many more.
President-director of Republic Flour Mills (RFM), Uncle Gus started as a personnel clerk and then later helped the company become a powerhouse. He headed Marina Properties. He advised public and private companies here and abroad, ranging from engineering, fast moving consumer goods, agribusiness firms to science groups.
Uncle Gus was a close friend of my late father William, a physician-entrepreneur, who used to say that businesspeople who were merely book smart were easily taken advantage of; those who were merely street smart could not compete in a global world.
Uncle Gus had all kinds of smarts, and more.
“As a child during the war, Papa rolled cigarettes in the factory,” says his son, Joseph. “That was his first job. The other workers wanted to [challenge] him, so they made a [long] cigar. But they were laughing at him and thought that this young 8-year-old boy would quit. They made him roll a [longer] cigar. But what they did not know was that Papa would do anything to make sure that his brothers had food at the table. So he smoked that cigar.”
Uncle Gus devoted himself to business, civil society, government and charitable groups, equally and generously.
“Papa was brilliant with the science of business,” says Joseph. “That was part of his success, but Papa’s differentiator was that he really loved and cared for people. By taking care of people, he took care of business. The people he sent to build RFM abroad thought he’d quiz them about plant capacity. But he, at some level, did not care about any of that. He knew they were capable … he focused on the human element, on the safety of their children and their homes.”
Uncle Gus and his wife Aunt Sonia, food technology pioneer and professor, were godparents at my wedding.
Philippine business and civil society respected Uncle Gus’ acumen and perspicacity, but I loved most his simple lifestyle and devotion to family.
“I always thought Papa lived simply since he grew up quite poor,” says Joseph. “But now I think it’s because he wanted other people to have more.”
“Once, Papa was thinking of buying a fancy car, or maybe I wanted him to buy one so I could drive it. But he said, ‘You know that’s impractical.’ It was more prudent to have the funds for us to go to a good MBA school, provide for other needs, take care of mom.”
The couple’s 10 children, six in-laws and more than a dozen grandchildren were the light of Uncle Gus’ life. He and my dad would converse for hours about business, politics, science, but without fail, they would start with the topic of family.
People often marveled how Uncle Gus and his wife managed to raise 10 wonderful children, each one with a unique personality, united in love of God and each other.
“Papa used to take us to places, wherever he thought we could learn,” says Joseph. “He didn’t treat us equally. There were no favorites, but he always treated us fairly based on what he knew and thought was best for each of us. He treated everyone as an individual person.”
Gus de Leon passed away on Jan. 13, 2017. We miss you, Uncle Gus, but our families take comfort in the conviction that you and my father are continuing discussions, in Joseph’s words, “on how to make heaven more efficient.”
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