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A gentlewoman of letters

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Learning Curve

A gentlewoman of letters

Gloria F. Rodriguez is a name always associated with the Philippine publishing industry, specifically New Day Publishers and Giraffe Books. I could not help but smile at the timing of her passing: in the month of April, which is mandated by presidential decree as “Buwan ng Panitikan.”  How perfect for this dedicated gentlewoman who loved the reading, the writing, the publishing, and the marketing of books. A true book woman.

Those of us who knew her as fellow sectoral member of the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY) gratefully remember her faithful presence at monthly lunch meetings, where her opinions and input were always valued.  There was the added perk of our being recipients of her newest titles.

New Day Publishers began in 1967 in response to the need for locally produced books for Christian churches.  Under Rodriguez’s tenure as director, New Day explored publishing literary works by such authors as NVM Gonzalez, Bienvenido N. Santos, Linda Ty Casper, Leonard Casper, Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo and Edith Tiempo. It ventured into publishing Filipiniana titles at a time when there was little appreciation for locally produced books, few and far between as they were during the years of the Marcos dictatorship. New Day became known as an important source of books on Philippine history, literature, culture, religion, and philosophy.  Until today, expatriates continue to seek and await New Day titles.

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When Rodriguez left New Day after 20 years as director, she went on to start her own one-woman publishing house. RayVi Sunico, her colleague in PBBY, describes the appropriateness of her choice of name: “She named it Giraffe Books, after that most elegant of animals who saw far and whose head was closest to the sky.”

Bezalie B. Uc-Kung, current executive director of New Day, remembers Rodriguez as a trusting mentor, allowing her staff opportunities to discover what they could achieve. Meetings with her could never be brief, because she loved to converse and to ask about “my family,  my health, and anything under the sun,” says UC-Kung.

She was also known to be very hardworking, still at it even when everyone else had gone home.

Rodriguez’s “greatest contribution to New Day and to Philippine publishing was that she pioneered Filipiniana publishing at a time when there was no guarantee the gamble would pay off,” says Uc-Kung. “Everyone else was in textbook publishing, where the money was. She published almost all of the classic works in literature. She also opened the door to many neophyte writers.”

US-based Fil-Am author Cecilia Manguerra Brainard acknowledges that her very first book was published by New Day. The Manila Critics Circle formally recognized Rodriguez’s efforts by presenting her a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992.

At the moving final memorial rites held at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John in Quezon City to celebrate Rodriguez’s life, her writer-daughter Nadine Sarreal related one of the most important lessons her mother had left, something she did not understand when she first heard it as a child. The family was preparing to return to the Philippines after years of living in the United States because her father, Ralph Rodriguez, had been invited to serve as president of Trinity College, today known as Trinity University of Asia. As they were clearing their apartment of their belongings, her mother insisted that they take extra care in cleaning the cabinets. Nadine protested: But they looked that way when we came! Said her mother: “Always leave a place better than when you found it.”

As she lived, so did she leave, with her characteristic quiet dignity and grace.

Gloria F. Rodriguez left our world, the publishing world, a much better place for us. Farewell, Gloria! we thank and salute you for your extraordinary contributions.

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Giraff Books, Gloria F. Rodriguez, Inquirer Opinion, Learning Curve, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, New Day Publishers, publishing industry
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