The generous Ricky Lee of my memory

There is that aspect of him that is rarely highlighted—his effectiveness as writing coach and teacher. I know where all that began

Ricky Lee with copy of his novel 'Para Kay B.' (From FB of Ricky Lee)

In the lockdown month of November in 2020, I received an unusual email from a colleague of Ricardo “Ricky” Lee requesting if I could write an endorsement letter for “Sir Ricky” for the National Artist Award.

There was only a moment’s hesitation, a fleeting thought that I may be disloyal to the memory of another writer, Gilda Cordero Fernando, for she was as worthy of that title as he.

But then, another friend and fellow writer Aida F. Santos, in turn, had suggested my name as one who could nominate Ricky in the highest terms. I slept over it, and implanted a dream where the words would come easy.

It was my memory of Ricky that brought me to that aspect of him that was rarely highlighted—his effectiveness as a writing coach and teacher. I know where all that began.

I opened my letter stating how honored and humbled I was at the same time to endorse and nominate Ricky to the Order of the National Artists for his vast achievements in film and broadcast arts.

I told of how I share with him a common “parentage.” We are spiritual children, with many other select former students, of the late University of the Philippines Diliman academics Silvino “SV” and Nieves Benito Epistola.

With the nominee and friends, among them cultural workers like Aida F. Santos, Flor Caagusan, Edgardo Maranan, Anton Juan, Mila Laurel, Lily Chua, and Gigi Dueñas, we experienced the beyond-classroom-walls generosity and kindness of the Epistola couple. They hosted literary soirées, but in our youth and ignorance, we didn’t know them then as such. We arrived at or after breakfast and lingered until the cocktail hour.

Ricky was a quiet presence—I count the reason for this to his innate shyness—in those gatherings. Often, he would be seen in a corner reading a book taken down from the shelves of the Epistolas’ enormous library on M. Viola street, UP campus.

When Lily eventually left for the US, Ricky regularly wrote to her. One day in her new marriage, she returned his letters (perhaps she was spring cleaning) through the address of the Epistolas. When he reread them before us, he was abashed and realized that he usually requested to have assorted books mailed to him. Almost each letter contained a request for this or that title. And Ms. Chua, who became Mrs. O’Connor, generally gave in to each of his requests.

Much later, I would patronize Ricky’s video rental shop at Virra Mall, Greenhills Shopping Center, where he had a dream collection of classic films. All these—the love for books, the collection of Betamax tapes that he was willing to share—were signs of the innate teacher in him. Was he influenced by the example of the Epistolas, who made a gift of their time and presence to each of those above-mentioned students? Most likely, I like to think.

When I learned of his free scriptwriting workshops, I was convinced of how Ricky was standing on the shoulders of SV and Nieves Epistola in spreading his love of writing, reading, and film

When I learned of his free scriptwriting workshops, I was convinced of the vast sphere of influence of the couple, how Ricky was standing on the shoulders of SV and Nieves in spreading his love of writing, reading, and film, in even sharing his personal experiences, including those of pain. In the same way, his students and former students now stand on his shoulders as they reap awards for their scripts.

One current student of his posted on her Facebook her heartfelt gratitude for the “giving-ness” that characterizes Ricky’s style of teaching. Veronica Ester Mendoza, who works as an independent consultant-trainer and community psychologist in civil society, wrote: “The four-hour online story writing/storytelling workshop of Ricky Lee extended to five and a half hours because he is so generous with his time and so patient in answering all our questions. And there were about 220+ of us in the Zoom room, and he talked as if he was addressing us individually. He is so engaging and yet he didn’t even have a visual aid/PowerPoint. So glad to have been able to ask him a few questions, and I was allowed to read my seatwork! There will be future offerings, and I am highly recommending that you take it even if you’re not a professional writer. I took it because I love storytelling, and I know its power in the work that I do.”

Much has been written about Ricky as an award-winning scriptwriter of landmark Filipino films. His biographical outline lists the more than 180 film scripts that have earned for him more than 80 trophies from various award-giving bodies. He is the recipient of 25 life achievement awards.

But I would like to pay tribute to him, even bow from the waist down, as the most generous of informal teachers. His influence is already extending to two generations of story-tellers.

At Malacañang this week where he received his award with seven others, he talked, in that trademark soft-spoken manner of his, of other artists worthy of the prize he received, how they would drain themselves in their work, how appreciation and remuneration needed to be bestowed while artists were still alive and could still enjoy them.

Nothing less than the National Artist award for Film and Broadcast Arts was fit to be conferred on him.


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About author


She is a freelance journalist. The pandemic has turned her into a homebody.

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