Photos by JOHN L. SHINN III / LAZT
So Long My Dear Friend...
By JOHN L. SHINN III
LAZT Founder & Editor-in-Chief
        LOS ANGELES --- After my bestfriend Ricky Valderrama Lopez-Vito and I graduated from high school at Ateneo (de Zamboanga) in 1977 we lost track of each other. He went back to Bacolod to study, rediscover his Ilonggo roots and help in the family farm in Cadiz City---while I went to Silliman University in Dumaguete City to take up industrial engineering.
        We got in touch sporadically until 1985 when I came to L.A. We started communicating by letters or phone calls more often. In late 1986, I invited Ricky to come to L.A. to try his luck here. Immediately, he agreed. But we
had one problem: I had to convince and assure Ricky's sister Rosie (who lives
in Alaska and who promised to pay for Ricky's plane ticket) that Ricky was welcome to stay with me and my young family for as long as it took for him to be own his own. Rosie and her husband Dave were more than happy to pay for Ricky's plane ticket. Ricky was the youngest of 12 children.
        Ricky was my bestfriend from high school and the extraordinary level of our friendship made him more than a brother to me. Ricky was a part of my family.  My mom and dad treated him as their own whenever Ricky would visit our home in San Jose near Central School. I also know almost all his sisters, while his older brother Eddie was my classmate at Ateneo from kinder to my junior year in high school.
        Ricky stayed with us in Encino, Calif. for almost a year. Almost two months after his arrival (after attending so many beer & BBQ parties) in Los Angeles, I helped him get a job at the office supply store --- two blocks from
my house --- where I was working part-time. I did not allow him to spend a single penny while he was living with me. I told him to save up his money so he will have enough savings if he wanted to go on his own someday.
        One morning, several months later Ricky told me he was ready to go on his own. "And where are you going?" I managed to ask him. "San Francisco," he said. We were both happy and excited that finally he'll be on his own.
        Not soon after Ricky left, Chito Lopez, who was also staying with me,  told me that, he too, wanted to go live in San Francisco. Apparently, Ricky
and Chito had already planned to move to the Bay Area and try their luck there. They would rent and share an apartment there.
       Over the years, whenever I go to San Francisco, I would always end up in their apartment --- located in the heart of downtown San Francisco near the Mission District--- to enjoy a cold bottle of beer or scotch while we reminisce about our high school and college days in Zamboanga.
      One day about three or four years ago, I got a call from Ricky. He was inviting me to their family reunion in L.A. His sisters Olga, Justine, Rosie and I think it was Stella---they would all be meeting in L.A. and Ricky said he was coming over. I told him I would be happy to go.
      However, on the day of the reunion, something came up and I was not able to make it, but I called Ricky who sounded unhappy I was a "no show."
However, my absence was overshadowed by the presence of his sisters. Ricky is the youngest of eight girls and four boys.
       "Boy, you should have been here....bien mucho gayot comida...I ate so much and I still feel bloated," Ricky said over the phone the following morning as he was getting ready for the trip back to San Francisco. I told him that I will visit him soon to make up for my not attending the family reunion. "I'll call you when I reach San Francisco," Ricky promised me before hanging up.
       A few days later, I got a call from Chito Lopez (he now has his own apartment in the next building by now) who broke to me the bad news: that Ricky had a stroke and was at the hospital. I spent the next few days trying to call Ricky at the hospital but he was transferred to another hospital. I was able to talk to his sister Justine and her husband Mitoy.
       By this time I was also having problems of my own and could not find time to visit Ricky in SF although we stayed in touch by phone. Before long Ricky called to say that he was going to live with his brother Lino somewhere in the Mid-West. The idea of being surrounded by nature was too tempting for him. And so he went.
      We stayed in touch by phone and I soon lost track of him. Ricky called one morning to say he decided to go back to the Philippines where he will have his therapy and most important of all, he said, he'll be surrounded by friends and family members. I felt that he made a wise decision by going home.
      After staying in Zamboanga for a while, Ricky decided to go back to Bacolod. Our communication line was cut off and it was not until about a year later I got a call from him at my parent's house. Ricky said he was back in the U.S. and that he was living with his girlfriend, Tess Lim, a nurse also from Bacolod, in New York.
      I was happy to know that he was back here and that his girlfriend being a nurse would be able to help take care of him. I wanted to visit him in New York but my ongoing divorce with my ex-wife prevented me from going.
      I can't exactly remember the last time I heard from Ricky. I think he called me from New York to let me know he was going to Zamboanga to attend our Ateneo high school class silver jubilee reunion in December 2003.
      On Sept. 17, I received an e-mail from Tess with the tragic news that Ricky passed away in Bacolod two days earlier. At first I did not believe the news because I never knew that Tess was Ricky's girlfriend. He did not mention her by name to me. It was only when Tess wrote in her e-mail that she was Ricky's girlfriend that I finally realized what she said was true.
       I just sat there in front of my computer for about 20 minutes,  my thoughts being replayed and rewinded like a VHS recorder. When I regained
my composure, I told myself not to cry. "Oh, Ric, what have you done to yourself?" I remember asking myself.
       I never could have imagined myself writing this article for Ricky today. And as I write this I can't help but shed tears at the thought that I'll never be able to enjoy a cold bottle of beer with him ever again. Or listen to our favorite song by The Doobie Brothers---with him.

The Doobie Brothers at the L.A. County Fair 2006

CLICK HERE TO VIEW LARGER IMAGE

      However, there is one unforgettable moment in our friendship that I will always remember for as long as I live: In late 1984, while I was working for Malaya, then the country's only national opposition newspaper in Manila, Ricky came to visit me for a few days.
       Our first day together I brought him with me to the Western Polce District (WPD) headquarters along United Nations Avenue in Manila where I was assigned for my news gathering. There I introduced him to Gen. Narciso Cabrera, WPD chief, and some of my media colleagues from other news-
papers.
       That night we went bar-hopping in the tourist belt in Mabini and Malate. We talked about our high school days together and the next thing I knew I woke up in my apartment the following day and it was almost noon time.
       Ricky was already awake and was looking for something. I asked him what he was looking for and he replied that he couldn't find his shoes, a Sperry Topsiders. I got out of bed and helped him look for it.
      After close to 30 minutes of futile search I asked him if he checked my car, a Volkswagen beetle. He said no. So we went outside and finally Ricky said he found them under the front passenger seat. We bought laughed and wondered how his shoes got under the seat in the first place.
      We went back into my apartment and tried to recall what time we went home. The last thing we can remember was that we were at a bar in Malate enjoying the live jazz band when our favorite song, "What A Fool Believes" by The Doobie Brothers was being played.

      After that everything just went blank. "You mean to say you don't even know what time we went home?" he asked me. "I don't even know how I drove us home!" I said trying to sound serious. We looked at each other, then laughed some more.
      So, whenever I hear that song today, I'm instantly transported back in time when all we both cared was to be carefree and happy.
      While those days are gone now that song by the Doobie Brothers will always remind me of those happy days with Ricky. His memory will linger on as long
as long as I live. The only comforting thought for me today is that Ricky is in a much better place now.
      I surely miss you, Ric... So long my dear friend....