The Ateneo College Glee Club already had its own when I joined it as a freshman in 1999. His name was Dr. Fernando Hofileña, M.D. To us, and the generations of Glee Club members who knew him, he was simply Doc Hof.
Doc was a tenor in the Glee Club during the 1950s, when it was still an all-male choir. He stayed on to become its tireless cheerleader, mentor, guide, morale booster and its number one fan.
You couldn’t be in the Glee Club and not know him. Your identity as a card-carrying member of the Glee Club was not valid until you had seen him strolling in his stately pace with his trusty umbrella along Katipunan; until you’d been stopped by him in the hall and held by the arm for a long chat (often, just as you were dashing to class or to rehearsal); until you had heard him speak in superlatives of the group you belonged to.
Everyone has their favorite Doc Hof story. Mine is the time when, after a particularly disastrous rehearsal, our conductor launched into a cutting sermon that left our confidence in shreds (as conductors will often do).
At the end of Sir Joel’s tirade, Doc walked into the rehearsal room beaming, bringing his hands together in slow, emphatic applause. “Incandescent!” he declared beatifically.
Well, nobody could stay angry or tired after that.
My other favorite Doc Hof story is how he, as an octogenarian, was hit by a truck while walking home in Loyola Heights. We were all horrified when we heard. Oh, no, not to worry—he was okay, he said. He simply got up, dusted himself off and walked home. After getting hit by a truck. True story.
Doc Hof’s unconditional love and support was constant even in the toughest times—when we sounded anything but incandescent. I was president during a difficult time in the Glee Club: we changed conductors twice in one year; we were on our own after a dramatic break from our alumni members; the makeup of the group shifted suddenly towards young, inexperienced singers. After our hard-earned triumphs in Europe, listeners expected a seasoned, winning sound that the “new” Glee Club simply didn’t have and couldn’t rush no matter how bad we wanted to.
During that transitional period, I heard many things from many people—but not a single thing from Doc. Making difficult decisions for the group was nerve-wracking and we officers could never be sure we were doing the right thing. In those times, Doc Hof’s quiet kindness was a gift. His constant presence was reassuring. His unshakeable faith in us, that we would endure and flourish, was a soothing balm. He simply knew that we would make it, even if I wasn’t sure we would.
Doc was so in love with the Glee Club, it was all he ever talked to us about. He never said much about himself. We were all stunned to learn about his achievements when he was awarded the Lux-In-Domino Award by Ateneo in 2008.
Here was a man who, when World War II broke out, stopped med school to return to his province of Negros to help his father, then the Mayor of the town of Silay. After fleeing with his family and townspeople to the mountains, he joined the Resistance against the Japanese and became acting Mayor at the age of 22.
After the war, he became a Fulbright scholar and studied pediatrics and child psychiatry in New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He came home to become the pediatrician and clinic head for the very first school for special education in the Philippines—now the Cupertino Center for Special Children in Loyola Grand Villas. I could go on and on, but you can read more about Doc’s remarkable life here.
He loved music, theater, debate. If you had ever talked to him, you would realize how much he exemplified a bygone era—one where people were kinder, greater, more genteel, more noble. Now that Doc is gone, I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone whom I could accurately describe as genteel or noble. Now I feel like his era has passed with his passing.
Everyone needs a number one fan. That a man as accomplished and remarkable as Doc Hof could be humble enough to be ours—so unabashedly, so unconditionally—was a gift beyond our deserving.
Doc was laid to his eternal rest today. Though it was always an honor and a pleasure to sing for him, I believe that we were only the opening act to what awaits him. I can only imagine what beautiful music must have been prepared to welcome him. I can only imagine his face when he hears it.
Dear Doc, rest well and enjoy the music. We love you and we will miss you.