Former ambassador to the U.S. Willy Gaa, 69Former Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Willy Gaa passed away on December 8 at 6:30 a.m. in Manila. He was 69.
He died from stroke complications from battling cancer. His wife Erlinda Gaa, his physician Luzminda Concepcion, and a team of doctors were at his bedside.
Gaa, who served as consul general in New York from 1997 to 1999, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010. He completed his service as envoy to Washington D.C. from 2006 to 2011, and retired after that.
“On this sad occasion, we recall the Ambassador’s long and dedicated service to our country and to the Filipino people,” said Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Cuisia.
“Ambassador Gaa’s professionalism and tireless efforts to advance the interests of the Philippines and the Filipino diaspora community will continue to inspire the work of the Philippine Embassy and Consulates General across the United States.”
Consul General Mario de Leon Jr. said Gaa was known in the Foreign Service for his “level-headed insightfulness and bright attitude.”
“His illustrious career that spanned 36 years proved his expertise in various aspects of the Service — in administration, consular affairs, political diplomacy…The Filipino-American community in the Northeast during his term as Consul General in New York and later as Ambassador to the U.S. will remember him as a warm and accommodating community leader.”
Ambassador Willy Gaa was a “consummate diplomat, whose actions more than his words, helped make a difference in the Filipino American community’s aspirations for empowerment,” said NaFFAA National Chairman JT Mallonga in a statement.
Gaa “deeply cared for the community,” said Mallonga. He stood with the community during its “most critical hours,” such as during the campaign of Filipino World War II Veterans for justice and equity.
“He championed this cause with determination and delight, walking the halls of Congress and meeting with U.S. leaders to speak for the thousands of veterans who needed a voice. He was there when the House finally voted for the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund on February 2007, staying late into the night to savor a measure of justice that had long been denied from our brave heroes,” he said.
Community leader and philanthropist Loida Nicolas Lewis praised Gaa’s “diligent efforts” to motivate Filipinos and Filipino Americans to give back to their mother country.
“He instilled a sense of devotion and duty to the Philippines by encouraging them to become dual citizens, and be involved in the country’s governance as overseas voters and citizens. He also encouraged community organizations to help needy and distressed Filipino nationals who are in need of legal and humanitarian assistance. He was truly a man who cared. He gave his very best, with quiet dignity and humble grace,” she said in a statement.
His older son Wendell thanked the community for expressing their sadness and sympathy to the family and for sharing their fond memories of his father.
“Thank you all for your prayers, support and well-wishes to me and my family in this difficult time. I know my Dad is now looking from up above upon us with much pride, knowing that we will continue to carry on the work of servicing the Fil-Am community which he so dedicated his life and career to when he was in the diplomatic corps,” he said.
July 14, 2010 was declared “His Excellency Willy C. Gaa Day” in San Diego honoring the veteran diplomat’s “lifetime of service to the Philippine community throughout the world.” Gaa served as Consul General in Los Angeles from January to July in 2006.
His foreign assignment began when he became Vice Consul in the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco from 1975 to 1980. He first became an Ambassador to Libya from 1992 to 1996. He would become Manila’s envoy to Australia from 2003 to 2004 and China from 2004 to 2006 before he was given the U.S. assignment in 2006.
A condolence book will be made available at the Philippine Center Lobby from December 11 to 18 for the community. — Cristina DC Pastor