Ambassador Willy Gaa remembered in touching memorial service“During the summer of 2015, when my Dad visited New York for his medical treatment, I’ve seen how he had lost a lot of weight and how much agony he was going through having to walk with a cane because of his severe back pain. At the time, he was undergoing radiation treatment for his cancer.
“At one point, my Dad told me in one of our last one-on-one conversations that no matter what happened to him, to be strong and to take care of my Mom and our family, and to continue to ‘fight the good fight’ by doing my best as an employee of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, providing the best service we can to God, country, and our fellow neighbor, family and friend.”
Thus, older son Wendell Gaa spoke intimately of his father, former Ambassador to the U.S. Willy Gaa, during a March 18 memorial service to honor his life and career in public service
Gaa succumbed to lung cancer on December 8, 2015 at the age of 69.
Consular officials and the Filipino community joined the Gaa family in remembering the “mild-mannered and soft-spoken” career diplomat. Gaa was very well acquainted with the Northeast U.S. Filipino community, having first served as a Consul at the Consulate General in New York from 1981 to 1985, and years later rose through the ranks to serve as Consul General from 1997 to 1999. His last diplomatic posting before retiring was in Washington D.C., where he served as the Ambassador from 2006 to 2011.
He had also served as Ambassador to Libya (1993-1997), Australia (2002-2003) and China (2003-2006), as well as Consul General in Los Angeles for six months before his assignment in Washington, D.C.
Consul General Mario L. De Leon, Jr. led the community in sharing their fond remembrances of Gaa. De Leon said he and Gaa worked together although briefly when he began his tour of duty in New York in 2011 just as Gaa was about to retire from his “illustrious” career in the diplomatic service. During that time, he was able to experience Gaa’s “level-headed insightfulness and bright attitude.”
Former Jersey City Deputy Mayor Ador Equipado recalled how Gaa took on the “extremely challenging role” of Overall Chair of the 1998 Philippine Independence Day Council Centennial with steady leadership, resulting in a “very successful” parade.
The speakers also included current Ambassador to Norway Bayani Mercado, former New York Tourism Representative Emma Ruth Yulo-Kitiyakara, former New York Consul Nini Garcia, and members of the community Atty. Reuben Seguritan, Nelia Ferrette, Aida Bartolome, LP Pelayo of the ‘Filipino Reporter,’ Vangie Lazaro and friends from his Upsilon fraternity Andrew Casino and Marilen Paderon, wife of Willy Paderon and daughter of the late Philippine actor Mario Montenegro.
In between the shared testimonies, a short slideshow of photos was presented.
Wendell spoke on behalf of his mother Erlinda Concepcion Gaa and his brother Warren, proclaiming how the spirit, memory and legacy of his father both as diplomat and as family man would be preserved and remembered.
“I have found new purpose in my diplomatic mission in New York,” said Wendell. “That is what he wishes us to do, what he would’ve wanted us to do, ‘fight the good fight’ for our God, country and fellow family, friend and neighbor.” — Cristina DC Pastor