By JAMI LEDESMA
Louie Cruz died on a Friday. Ironic, especially for someone who, for much of his life, became extra vibrant at the start of a weekend.
For somebody who was neither a parent nor a sibling to me, the influence he had on my life is nothing short of remarkable. As mom’s only “sister” in a brood of seven, their age gap was just 17 months. The two of them were already extremely close long before I was born, and when the stork delivered me in the UK, he somehow found a way to be there with my mom and dad. It was a no-brainer, then, that he was chosen to be ninong at my christening. For the rest of his life, to say that he played his godfather role beyond anyone’s expectations would be an understatement.
My vivid memories of him date back to the ’80s, a decade when he was some 10 years younger than I am today. People Power had just happened so his father, or Lolo J.V. Cruz to me, thought it best for the family to relocate to the UK until the dust settled. We arrived in London in the dead of winter and I recall not recognizing Tito Louie all bundled up without his trademark off-shoulder top as we stepped out into the cold.
For the next year or so, we lived under one roof, the Kensington home of Lolo J.V. and my lola, fondly called “Omi” by my cousins and me. Eike, Tito Louie’s German partner at the time, was only nine years younger than I was and became a barkada of sorts. In hindsight, I must have been more of a third wheel as Tito Louie always brought me along whenever he would crave Indian or Chinese food. Even far away from the Manila nightlife, I observed him to be a certified night owl. He, Eike, and I would stay up until the wee hours watching scary movies, a genre they both enjoyed, which eventually rubbed off on me… As did their love for a good tandoori and Peking duck.
When they both left to live in Germany, I would still see Tito Louie at least twice a year. He would either visit us in London or invite me to his Frankfurt home during school breaks.I still remember some of the wild parties he threw and the friends he made, a motley crew of interesting characters, some in drag, and witnessed their shenanigans to the point that nothing could shock me anymore. He was fluent in German and, before I knew it, Eike spoke better Tagalog than I did, despite the two of them not returning to Manila until the early ’90s.
His final trip to London was a sad one. Omi, whom he was very close to, died of cancer four days before Christmas. Tito Louie’s heroic effort to find a seat on a plane from Manila to London at the height of the holiday season paid off as he made it to her bedside in the nick of time.
When I moved back to Manila in ’96, my relationship with Tito Louie continued from where it had left off, albeit with more mature (or immature?) themes. It was a recipe for good times: I was fresh out of college ready to mingle while he was at the height of his party days. Even if we lived together in the same Salcedo condo Omi had purchased before her untimely passing, Tito Louie and I would see each other more often at Giraffe than we would at home.
After a few years, he decided to live in Boracay with his new partner, Sandro. Before I knew it, they both owned and ran a bistro at station 2’s D’Mall, aptly called McSandro. As expected, it didn’t take long for the island to fall in love with him. During one of my work-related trips to Boracay, when I handled the Smart marketing and PR account, Tito Louie even hosted a special dinner for me, my clients, and around 30 of his new friends. Being the PR whiz that he always was, he suddenly became a mentor to me and was always happy to offer guidance and introduce me to his industry friends. And boy, what a network he had!
It will be difficult for those of us who knew him to follow one of his wishes, which is not to be sad at his passing. But his other wish is for us to celebrate his life. Now, that’s easy.
Even in death, it amazes me how he managed to extend the same kindness to so many people. I continue to receive many messages of sympathy from his friends, some of whom I’ve never even met, who share their memories of him. Joaquin, my teenage son, is typically stoic but would light up whenever we’d visit Tito Louie. My partner, Jessy, only met him twice but wanted to see him one last time to say goodbye. She and I made it to his bedside in the nick of time. Two days after his passing, her eyes welled-up with tears when I started talking about him. He touched so many lives and, in many cases, only needed a meeting or two to do it.
It will be difficult for those of us who knew him to follow one of his wishes, which is not to be sad at his passing. Buthis other wish is for us to celebrate his life. Now, that’s easy.
Prost, Tito Louie!