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How President Fidel V. Ramos Once Gave John Gokongwei Jr. a Comb to Fix His Hair

A military man through and through, Fidel Ramos never left the house unkempt.
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Former president Fidel V. Ramos will be remembered for many things—the way he revived the Philippine economy from 1992 to 1998, his role in national politics, and his military history as one of the most decorated officials of our time. But one factor we hope historians won’t overlook is how FVR…took his grooming seriously. 

A consummate statesman in politics, FVR was almost always dressed to the T. Even in retirement, you would never see FVR with a hair out of place. A military man through and through, FVR was known for keeping his slick-backed hair combed and gelled. And when called for, he extended his hand to friends when they needed a helping hand—or perhaps a comb or two. 

Robina Gokongwei-Pe, CEO of Robinsons Retail Holdings Inc., remembers how FVR once generously lent her father, the late John Gokongwei Jr., a comb when he showed up to an event looking a little unkempt. 

“Former President Fidel V. Ramos graciously attended the inauguration of our JG Summit Petrochemical Plant in Batangas in April 1998. My dad, John Gokongwei Jr., founder of JG Summit, was always known for attending events with a crumpled shirt and a folded newspaper in his suit pocket. This time he arrived with his hair all disheveled,” shared Pe. 

Known as “Big John” to friends, family, and employees, John Gokongwei Jr. is fondly remembered for being scrupulous, frugal, and down-to-earth. An unfussy industrialist, he could care less about how he looked, but for this particular event, FVR gave him a helping hand. 

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“FVR saw my dad’s hair, took a comb out of his own pocket, and lent it to my dad. My dad laughed, took the comb, and thankfully fixed his hair in time for the photo opportunity. This was to the delight of the crowd in attendance. No wonder FVR's hair was always well groomed,” shared Pe. 

In the days since his passing, FVR has been the subject of many nostalgic and often heart-warming stories. Philippine presidents and their legacies are often riddled with controversy, but FVR was famous for showing grace and professionalism even under the heat of criticism. Journalists like Howie Severino, Joel Pablo Salud, and Inday Varona-Espina have spoken about how FVR was principled and respectful, often engaging them in discourse even on topics they disagreed on. 

Perhaps the historians will also remember his small actions, the ones that spoke of his manner as a man and friend. 

“Rest in peace dearest FVR!  May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. Most gracious of you! If you see my dad up there, hope you can still lend him your comb,” said Robina Gokongwei-Pe. 

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Anri Ichimura
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