|Ambassador Willy C. Gaa (philippineembassy-usa.org)|
NEW YORK – The New York Filipino community gathered together at the Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Center to honor and pay tribute to the late Ambassador Willy C. Gaa in the evening of Friday, 18 March 2016. Ambassador Gaa, well known for his reputation as a mild-mannered and soft-spoken career diplomat, 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. The beloved Ambassador’s last diplomatic posting before retiring was in Washington D.C., where he served as the Philippine Ambassador to the United States 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. Ambassador Gaa passed away after a lingering illness on 08 December 2015 at the age of 69.
New York Consul General Mario L. De Leon, Jr. opened the program with his welcoming remarks and memories working shortly with Ambassador Gaa back when he was a Consul, then as Chief Coordinator at the Home Office in Manila, as well as when he began his tour of duty as Consul General here in New York in 2011 just when Ambassador Gaa was about to retire from the diplomatic service.
Community leaders, former colleagues and personal friends of Ambassador Gaa then took their turn in sharing their fond personal remembrances having worked with and becoming acquainted with him during his past tour-of-duties in New York, and even during his yearly visits to the area after his retirement. The speakers included current Philippine Ambassador to Norway Bayani Mercado, former New York Tourism Representative Emma Ruth Yulo-Kitiyakara, former New York Consul Nini Garcia, former Jersey City Deputy Mayor Ador Equipado, and community figures 2015 PIDC Chairman Atty. Reuben Seguritan, Mrs. Nelia Ferrette, Ms. Aida Bartolome, Mr. LP Pelayo (son of deceased ‘Filipino Reporter’ publisher Libertito Pelayo), Ms. Vangie Lazaro and friends from his Upsilon fraternity Mr. Andrew Casino and Mrs. 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 from Ambassador Gaa’s time as New York Consul General in the late 1990s and then as Philippine envoy to Washington, D.C. in the late 2000s was shown on the auditorium screen.
Wendell Gaa, son of the late Ambassador and staff employee at the Consulate, then gave his words of gratitude on behalf of his attending mother Erlinda Gaa and his absent brother Warren, proclaiming how the spirit, memory and legacy of his father as both a diplomat and a family man would be well preserved and carried on through the mutual love and support given to him by his family, colleagues and friends in the community alike.
Ambassador Gaa in his two past postings in New York was active in enhancing the consular, cultural and substantive services of the Consulate General, endearing him to the Tri-State Metropolitan Filipino community. Even during his stint as Philippine Ambassador to the U.S., he would frequently attend official and social functions sponsored by the community, reuniting with old colleagues and friends in the process.
The memorial program was jointly organized by the Consulate General, Mrs. Ferrette, Mrs. Carol Baluyot and Mr. Nanding Mendez of the Fiesta in America.
Ambassador Gaa is survived by his wife Erlinda Concepcion and two sons, Wendell and Warren.