Remembering Gani YambotBy Queena N. Lee-Chua
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Rereading a January 2006 “Businessweek” cover story, “Math Will Rock Your World,” I came across this quote from Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Paul Pfleiderer: “Now it’s easier for people to bamboozle someone by having analysis based on lots of data and graphs. We have to train people in business to spot a bogus argument.”
I thought, “This is exactly what Gani meant! I should show this article to him,” but then I sadly remembered that Inquirer publisher Isagani Yambot had passed away by then, on March 2.
When editor Chelo Banal-Formoso informed me of Gani’s passing a day later, my immediate thought was, “We have lost a good man.” I then sent a text message to Cita Goyagoy, Gani’s longtime assistant, who replied, “I miss him so much.”
I miss him, too, and this tribute to Gani is long overdue.
In March 1991, urged by my college English professor Doreen Fernandez, the late Inquirer food columnist, I submitted an article entitled “Why Be Afraid of Math?” to Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, then editor of Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
The article generated considerable reader mail, so Lorna asked me to do more pieces, one of which, the link between volcanoes and earthquakes, became a cover story.
In June that year, she asked me to do a column, and “Eureka!” was born.
The volcano-earthquake story won an award for science writing from the Philippine Press Institute. During the ceremony, I met Gani for the first time.
He shook my hand, saying, “Good work! I am glad you are writing for us. Keep it up.” Somebody took our picture while we were on stage. I think the Inquirer published the photo the next day.
In the years to come, I would meet Gani during award ceremonies. One of the regrets of my life is that I do not have in my possession any photo with him.
Some years later, Lorna told me she was leaving the magazine. I had grown not only to respect Lorna, but to have great affection for her as well. I did not feel comfortable working for someone else.
So I went to Gani’s office and, breathlessly (before I could lose my nerve), I told him I was resigning though I would forever be grateful to the Inquirer.
Gani was seated behind his desk, but he came over and sat beside me. He said, “We have been discussing the idea of a weekly science page in the newspaper itself, not the magazine. Can you bring your column to the paper instead? You will be under another editor, but we need a columnist for the page. What do you think?”
Then he smiled.
Gani waited patiently as thoughts raced through my mind. How could I say no? It was a singular honor, and I said as much to him. He waved away my thanks, saying, “No, thank you for staying with us. If you ever need to talk, I am always here.”
I never needed to seek out Gani again. During the few times I visited the Inquirer, I would see him hard at work. Once, I saw him bent over his desk, and Cita whispered, “He has been attending meetings the whole afternoon, and he has to go over many things now.”
I decided not to disturb Gani, but when he looked up and saw me, he came to the door and greeted me. I blurted out, “Gani, you look so neat! Cita said you were busy, but your clothes are still not rumpled.”
He laughed softly then said, “I have been meaning to ask you—can you do a session on math, especially statistics, for our reporters?”
“But your reporters are not doing math articles, are they?” I asked.
“No, but they are doing news and business. Often they do not understand statistics that well, and I think they interpret the math wrong. Can you give them a primer on basic math, basic statistics, so they can understand facts and figures better?”
“Inquirer’s business and news articles are good, Gani, I read them,” I said.
“But the writers can always improve,” he said. “You should visit us at our sessions, so you can see the errors, which I try to point out. I go over everything, and I see grammatical errors, factual errors even, and some that I think are math errors.”
Of course, I agreed to help out, and Gani said it would most likely be in the late afternoon.
We talked about this a few more times, and he told Cita to contact me once a schedule was finalized. Unfortunately, up to now I still owe Gani a math session.
At the wake, when I recounted Gani’s pristine look, his wife Mildred revealed the secret. “I put starch on his barong every day, the stiffest starch you can find. Gani takes care of his appearance. Even when he would just go to the store, he would dress well, and he would tell me to do so also, just in case someone recognized me.”
Gani represented the Inquirer, and he wanted to always be at his best.
When I told Mildred how kind Gani was to me, she said, “Gani has a soft spot for young people with talent. He put several scholars through school. He would also give, not just lend, money to staff and reporters who needed it for some emergency.”
In accounts of newsrooms, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, the top people, albeit brilliant, seem to be temperamental, raging at quavering writers, reporters and the rest of the staff.
Although I do not go to the Inquirer office often, I gathered that with Gani at the helm, this was not the case. At the Inquirer, you can be the top newsroom in the country and still be kind.
E-mail the author at email@example.com.
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