What I've Learned

Richard Gordon: What I've Learned

The senator and chairman of the Philippine Red Cross on egotism, cowboy movies, and why Lancelot was always better than Arthur.
IMAGE Jojo Mamangun

"Face the future, don’t fear the future. Make the future your friend."

You’re a risk-taker when you can leave the shoreline without seeing it, and travel to a place you don’t know.

I flunked high school in second year. It turned my life around. It made me more serious in life. It shamed me before my parents. It made me a better leader.

I have one luxury: the watch that my father gave me, which was very common during the navy’s time here. All our waiters had Rolex watches, because the navy sailors, they’d just sell their watches to the waiters. This other watch that my father gave me, it was snatched. Then he gave me another watch—I lost it in a big walk in the ROTC. Again, I was embarrassed, so he gave me his own watch. I never lost it.

I used to drive my sisters to school in a station wagon, and then my father gave me a Volkswagen in my first year in college. Ramon Jacinto was running around in a Thunderbird and I was always looking at them; my classmate a Mustang. Now I have a Mustang, which I drive once in awhile.

I never learned how to cook. I don’t like to cook. I can cook a barbecue, a steak, but I’m a very simple guy. Whatever you put on the table, I’ll eat.

Work, save, invest, prosper. Vision, values, volunteerism equals victories. Aim high. Bawal ang tamad, lalong bawal ang tanga.

I don’t know what “having done so much” means. In life, if you do think that way, mayabang ka eh. And I’m already mayabang from other people’s point of view, because I’m a very outspoken person.


[People] who have the wrong reason for joining me, they quit early enough. They don’t last. But those who really want a career, who want to be somebody in life—somebody, someday—they know: You’ve got to work hard with [me], and [I’m] gonna help you when you’re down, and the the ultimate analysis is that staying with [me] will benefit you if you know how to use it.

I like old movies, all the time. I like heroic movies, I like epic movies, I like cowboys and indians, because it’s very clear who are the good guys and the bad guys. The old movies, they’re very clear. Now it’s different. They teach you all kinds of things in the movies now. That’s why you have problems with drugs. You have to really bombard the people with good things. I’m a very spit-and-polish, law-and-order guy. Follow the rules.

"There’s nothing old that you cannot learn from."

I grew up here, beside the military. I mean, they’re not my idols, but I like the fact that one is able to show that [he] can give and not count the cost, as the prayer goes. Not a hero but [one who is able to] go beyond yourself.

A little bit of egotism doesn’t hurt. Because you [need to] sell it.

In law school, I was always prepared. I can comprehend fast. I don’t have to go into those creature-things like memorizing. I read to understand. I don’t read for affectation. Some people want to be educated for affectation. You [must] read to learn.

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You must be a teacher when you lead. That’s why I teach all the time. Not all leaders are teachers, but the good leaders, they teach.

[My wife] gets mad at me sometimes. She cries sometimes—that I’m too fast, and it’s about time to slow down, we’re both getting old. And I say, if I slow down… do you want me to die?

There’s nothing old that you cannot learn from.

Arthur was an idealist. But I liked Lancelot better. He had all the fun. He got the girls, he was brave.

The Philippine Red Cross can say we own a ship, and we are the foremost humanitarian organization in the world. And I don’t need anybody to tell me that. I want to say that.

There are too many people in need of help in this country. There’s too many of them. I’ve seen them all, and I’ve been in front of them. You name it, I’ll tell you what I did. I can go to any place in this country and I know I helped somebody there. And I don’t have to remind anybody. All you need to do is remember, and not charge them for it.

Life must be a symphony. This country must be a symphony. Everybody. Trombone, guitar, tuba, the violins, everything. It must become a symphony. That’s how you handle disaster.

When you’re in dire straits and you have problems, and you help others, that makes you great. It makes you feel good. And that’s the start of having a sea change in your mind. “I helped somebody; I’m no longer being helped.” Isn’t that [how] it’s supposed to be?


The first victory of the revolution was won by my great-grandfather, in Imus, Cavite. But he was never known. Only Corpuz took note of him, and [Emilio] Aguinaldo. It was the first victory. He got the saber from the Spanish general. [Before that,] they could not win anything—that was the first real victory. They conquered land, drove the Spanish away, won war booty. But then all these historical—or hysterical—commissions, they don’t know how to write their history.

We got hit by Pinatubo, we were in the dark. Nobody was helping us except ourselves. I even denied America the privilege to help us because they were very, very exacting. Arrogance. But then I put this together. [Subic] was the focus, this was the hub of all FedEx operations throughout the whole world. I put in the radar, the ILS [Instrument Landing System], etc. I did this with volunteers, not with money, but with human resources.

Face the future, don’t fear the future. Make the future your friend.

You cannot be a humanitarian if you don’t care. I care enough to put my money where my mouth is. [The Philippine Red Cross's ship] will reach out where you cannot reach out. When others have a hard time getting there, we will get there.

I am not an intellectual, but I exact greatness. A leader has to draw out the best from his people. That’s my job: to raise the bar so that you can be a better Filipino.


If you do not define yourself, other people will define you for you.

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Miguel Escobar
Assistant Features Editor for Esquire Philippines
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