All through my growing-up years, I was often asked by my mom’s contemporaries and colleagues, “Kilala mo ba si Grace Poe?” Apparently, I was a dead ringer for FPJ’s only child. Although, he and my mother had worked together on several films, and was a close personal friend, the king’s daughter and I had never met.
It was only at the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) where we finally met. Grace was my chairperson at the government agency for two years and yes, we would often rib each other about the striking similarities. Many people had apparently asked her the same thing while she was growing up.
FPJ: The early years
In the mid-1950s, the young Fernando Poe Jr. traveled to Cebu to oversee the family film equipment rental business. His mother, Bessie Kelly Poe, had sent the then only 16-year-old FPJ to manage the family business. Cebuano filmmaker Natalio Bacalso had contracted the services of FPJ’s small but thriving company to provide film equipment in the making of several Cebuano movies.
It was there where he met my mother, the actress, Caridad Sanchez who was also beginning her career as an actress in Cebu. She became one of his very first friends. “Ronnie always said that Cebu held a special place in his heart because it’s one of the first few places where he learned true independence, and began to help provide for his widowed mother, and his younger siblings,” my mom shared with me one afternoon.
Theirs was a friendship that spanned over four decades and FPJ was a tried and true friend of the family through all our sadness and joy. Always there for us, albeit quietly, in moments when the presence of a true friend was needed the most. His unswerving loyalty and kindness to his friends was one of the things that made him a great man.
Working with Grace up close and personal for two years at the MTRCB made us realize she was a leader we all enjoyed working with—a woman who walked her talk. Always very thorough, fair and just with everyone, the benefit of children as viewers, and as entertainers in the film and television industry were of prime importance to her.
Firm but kind
Although gentle in appearance, and in demeanor, when it came to making a call on hard and sometimes complicated decisions, she was firm but still kind. Gifted with excellent people and administrative skills, she was loved and respected by everyone at the agency.
In spite of her very busy schedule, she always managed to remain on top of her children’s activities, and through efficient time management and the help of an effective and caring household staff, strike a happy balance between the demands of work and home.
“Of course, it also helps a lot that I have a family (husband Neil, and her mom) that is very supportive of what I do, and a great staff at home to help me run things, and look after the children when I am tied up at work,” she said.
Grace tells me that it took a while to convince her mom about the seriousness of her bid for the Senate. “That’s just the way my mom is. It took me a while to convince her, and she was actually the one who suggested that I work in government first. So when I was offered to chair MTRCB, I accepted. Once my mom said yes to my bid, win or lose, whatever the odds look like she’s there for me.”
Growing up, Grace recalls how her mom was unlike the other mothers from her generation. “She always stressed the importance of being independent—of having your own career, and learning how to plan for your future. I suppose it comes from having had to also help her own family at a very young age. She would always say that women should have their own career and not be dependent on their husbands alone, but also to be a helpmate to your husband.”
Pay it forward
Simplicity is the hallmark of Grace Poe, in manner of speaking, dressing, in demeanor and in finding joy in the little things in life. She said that her mom instilled that value in her, and both her parents would constantly remind her to find ways to help improve lives through service and hard work, and to pay it forward quietly minus fanfare.
During her stint at the MTRCB, Grace’s door was always open to anyone who needed to talk to her. Much like her father who had a gift for connecting with people, she knew her staff very well, and always took time to get to know the hearts and minds of each and everyone who worked there.
Running an agency which regulates television and film and having to keep a balance between safeguarding a child’s interests (children usually take in 21 hours of TV per week) and seeing to it that networks and film producers practice self-regulation is no mean feat. For Grace who has played many roles—as mother, homemaker, wife, daughter to filmdom’s royal couple, MTRCB chairperson—the road to the Senate has been paved with many challenges that she has been able to surmount thus far. Blessed with grace and grit, she looks forward to an even bigger role, and to create an even greater impact in the lives of children and families, by serving in an even larger arena.