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A sense of history, a sense of legacy

By: Mike Acebedo Lopez December 29,2017 - 10:10 PM


Early this month, I decided to go to the very top of the Empire State Building by myself. The last time I was in New York, I didn’t get to do a lot of touristy stuff since I was there busy with work. Suffice it to say, it was my first time up the iconic building featured in some of my favorite movies and television shows: An Affair To Remember, Sleepless in Seattle, Gossip Girl, and most important for me, King Kong.

It was a rainy morning and I didn’t get tickets in advance, but since I was running out of time because I was leaving for Washington D.C. the following day, I decided to book a skip-the-line ticket online and just go. It was a last-minute decision because it was not part of my original itinerary that I was, thankfully, able to follow to a tee. By the time I arrived, it stopped raining and it turned out to be quite a lovely, reflective afternoon.

The night before, I stumbled across an old photo of my maternal great-grandparents, Don Felix Acebedo and Doña Felipa Pangan-Acebedo, taken atop the Empire State Building when it was newly finished and was still “the world’s tallest.” The photo inspired me to retrace their steps and take a photo at the exact same spot.

And I did just that. The Manhattan skyline has, of course, changed dramatically since they had their photo taken well over half a century ago but there are old buildings from the period that are still there to serve as markers. The southern view of the Hudson River and the East River also helped me identify the spot.

I’m overly sentimental and ritualistic, and my sense of history is unparalleled by anyone I know. I almost always am able to instantly draw parallelisms to past events and things when making a decision in the present. Like a default mechanism programmed into my thought process, my mind automatically reviews a virtual rolodex of stories, anecdotes, and experiences from my childhood, those told to me by my elders, and those I’ve seen in photos or read in books or family manuscripts chronicling the adventures and misadventures of my forebears.

I’m sure it can be annoying for some people but if you are to build a relationship with me, I warn you, this is an inextricable attribute indelibly carved into my system. I can’t help it. But I digress.

I was there to reflect on what my great-grandparents and grandparents left us; how blessed we are to have inherited an enduring legacy, a name that has become a byword in the optical industry.

When Lolo Felix and Lola Ipang were at the Empire State Building, Acebedo was the undisputed leader in the industry as one of the oldest and most established optical chains in the country; there were Acebedo Optical stores in all the major cities in the Philippines, in the most far-flung barrios and markets in the countryside, there were even branches in Guam and North America; associations were formed to fight what some perceived as our family enterprise’s monopoly over the industry.

Like the Empire State, my great-grandparents were on top of the world, leaders of an industry. But other buildings in New York and other major cities in the world have since overtaken the Empire State Building; as of 2017, it is only the 28th tallest building in the world.

Alas, like the Empire State, once but no longer the tallest building in the world, other corporations may have also overtaken Acebedo in terms of market share and sheer aggressiveness in expansion.

But our family legacy and commitment to quality service live on, four generations strong and counting. After all, modesty aside, like the Empire State, an icon will always be an icon.

But it is not so much my great-grandparents’ entrepreneurial legacy that I chose to honor and celebrate whilst I was up there reflecting on the fabulous and storied life they’ve lived but their legacy of kindness and generosity toward others. While I am grateful for what they’ve left the succeeding generations, residual bounty we continue to benefit from, it is how they’ve treated others that inspires me most.

Lolo Felix is widely considered the Father of the Optical Industry in the Philippines because many of the most successful and popular optical stores today trace their roots to Acebedo, either as past employees, optometrists, opticians, receptionists, even company drivers of my great-grandfather and grandfather Dr. Herodotus Pangan “HP”/ “Oro” Acebedo and his siblings. To some people whom they felt deserved it, they would literally give out an entire branch (filled with equipment and supplies) and teach them the tricks of the trade. Yes, they would bequeath not just the business model but the entire business good to go. Many of them have not been very grateful, leaving out this important bit in their respective histories, but that is not the point, that’s on them.

One time when I was still working in government and I was lining up to process something in a government agency, an elderly government employee who looked like he was nearing retirement saw my form and asked, “Yung Acebedo mo ay yung sa Acebedo Optical?” When I responded in the affirmative, the man then offered to help me with my concern as he told me a story of how he and his father owed so much to my great-grandfather.

Apparently, without asking for anything in return, Lolo Felix had helped this man’s father when their family fell on hard times when he was still in high school.

Imagine that. I didn’t even know this man or his family, but the good Lolo Felix did continued to live on in the grateful heart of this man who never forgot his generosity.

As I was beholding the awesome view of the city where the whole world resides, recalling that encounter really helped put things into perspective.

That while material possessions can be a barometer for success, how we treat others makes for a more lasting and shining legacy.

If I could only be half as generous to others as my great-grandparents and grandparents were, then I’d be the richest man in the world.

Here’s to a peaceful, prosperous, healthy, hopeful, and kinder 2018. Happy New Year, folks!

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TAGS: history, kin, KONG, Legacy, month

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