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Taal book author was a ‘true character’

04:02 AM January 20, 2020

Dear Ms Ceres Doyo,

I read your column, “The Mysteries of Taal” (1/16/20). Tom Hargrove was my mentor, colleague and friend at the International Rice Research Institute (Irri) in the 1980s where he headed the communication and publications department.

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He infected me with his passion for Lake Taal and brought me along for several trips to the lake and surrounding towns, looking for clues about “sapao,” those wall-like structures submerged in the lake. I helped edit and proofread the book, and I am so happy that it is being quoted extensively now in light of Taal’s eruption.

Sadly, Tom is now gone. He died of cardiac arrest and pneumonia in 2011. He was a true character — a self-confessed Texas redneck who was the only male to take up typing as an elective in school so he could hit on girls by typing their papers and make money off the guys by charging for his services. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam as an army lieutenant, going by the nickname “The Old Man.” He was 24 then, and all the others in his team were barely out of their teens. His specialty was winning “hearts and minds.” He wrote about his exploits in “A Dragon Lives Forever.”

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After leaving Irri in the early ‘90s, he moved to work at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Colombia. On the way to work one weekend, he took the longer but more scenic route and was kidnapped by Marxist guerrillas. He was held captive for 11 months. He kept a diary by writing on scraps of paper using a stubby pencil. This was later published as “The Long March to Freedom.” His kidnapping was the basis for the Russell Crowe movie “Proof of Life.”

When we spoke after he was released, he said he kept himself sane by replaying in his head some of our silly conversations while he was still in the Philippines. We usually had those conversations in his home filled with unique artifacts from all over the world, or in my garage where he always sat on the hood of my car. The car was second-hand but it was my first, and I hated him for sitting on it because I was afraid it might be dented or scratched. I didn’t have the heart — or the courage — to tell him to get off because he was enjoying himself. He promised to visit me in Dubai in 2011 where he was being offered a job as a consultant. The emails stopped suddenly, and I received a message about his passing from one of our friends. I, and all those in the Philippines, Vietnam and Colombia and everywhere he had been who knew him, miss him.

MIKE ORTEGA

Managing Partner and Chief Marketing Consultant

Agetrom Management ‍‍‍Consultancy

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TAGS: A Dragon Lives Forever, letters, Ma. Ceres Doyo, Mike Ortega, Taal Volcano, Tom Hargrove
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