Home » Articles » Mr. Dick, August 13, 1988

Mr. Dick, August 13, 1988

August 13, 1988

“Mr. Dick”

By Teodoro M. Locsin

OF the dead we should speak only good, we are told, which makes it difficult—for how are people to tell whether we are doing only what is proper or telling the truth?

In the case of Mr. Dick, it is doubly difficult, for he distrusted praise, or, to be precise, he was wary of its insidious effect. He liked it, I suppose, as much as any man, but with this difference: he felt it was weakening; it made you pleased with yourself. When things are going well, he would say, that is the time to be worried. A most canny Scot!

And there is this further point: To praise a man with whom one was so closely associated is, somehow, to praise oneself, and as he would say, self-praise is no praise. Yet, I must say it, now or never, the earth having received its “honored guest.” He was the one great man I knew.

A difficult man to work with, for he demanded, it sometimes seemed, too much from you. You forgave him only because it was obvious that he demanded even more from himself. To see him in terrible pain with every movement an agony, still doing his work, day after day, year after year—it was impossible to find excuses for any failure to do the best you could.

“Do not grow old,” he would say, and, sometimes, when the pain was unbearable, he would cry: “Let me die.” But the next morning he would be at his desk as usual—though he had to be half-carried there—working for the FREE PRESS. He never spared himself. He would not be a burden; he must earn his keep! What was important to him was not how he felt, but the magazine, which had for him a kind of transcendent existence apart from the people who composed it.

He had the quality of disinterestedness that marks the man one could call great. His temper was explosive, but his anger was never spiteful; it was impersonal; he did not know hate. We nurse our wrath to keep it warm, as the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, would put it, but the anger of Mr. Dick, provoked by some mistake, did not last long. “I have a vile temper,” he would apologize. His anger could pierce like a sword, sharp and cold, but it left a clean wound; nothing festered. He was never mad at the man but the act.

He made of the public interest a kind of mystique, which he would have his magazine solely serve. The general good was his own particular creed, and he equated it with truth and justice. It seemed to him the mark of a noble man that he should concern himself not merely with his interest but with the interests of others. It is the peculiar purpose of the press, he thought, to seek out such a man and give him praise—and go after his vicious opposite.

A lot of people talk about serving the public interest these days, of course, but what made Mr. Dick different was the fact that he meant it. Tired expressions and mere common-places, which one would avoid because so many had made use of them to deceive, regained authority on his lips. Shopworn phrases seemed newly made; old saws turned into “modern instances” through the force of example and belief. He was what he said.

“What’s his racket?” one thinks when somebody speaks of the “general welfare” and the “common good.” But words were, to Mr. Dick, meant to express thought, not hide it. He pretended to nothing he was not. He would not even think of doing it. Having known him, it was an almost painful experience listening to some public figure invoke the public interest while promoting his own; you are embarrassed by the transparent attempt to impress, by the obvious lies.

“Damn it,” he said impatiently once to an acquaintance who was trying to convince him that he was not guilty when he quite plainly was, “Damn it, can’t you tell the truth?”

He was a measure for other men. In most of them one found something contemptible, something not quite straight. Though the years bent his body until he walked, or shuffled, with his face to the ground, nothing else in Mr. Dick bowed.

Let us honor if we can

The vertical man

Though we value none

But the horizontal one.

Because he meant what he said, Mr. Dick had a reality most people do not have. The outline of the man was sharp and clear, that of others shifty and vague. He had the definition of rectitude. The dishonest continually change shape. Thus, thieves, who convert what does not belong to them into their own, assuming the substance of others, take, in Dante’s vision of hell, reptilian forms, becoming lizards and snakes. But the honest do not change; they are always themselves.

Rectitude, it should be noted, is not the same as being righteous, which is repulsive. To be straight is not to be smug. Mr. Dick was the most humble of men as he was the most upright. And if he seemed the embodiment of the decorous and correct, he was also, when his work was done and dinner was waiting and the company good, the mellowest of human beings. A drink or two would set him reminiscing. (The iron grew soft in the warmth of a Martini.) The sentimentalist had the upper hand.

Let the record be set straight. Mr. Dick enjoyed a good drink. He never pretended he did not. For some 50 years he did not touch a drop—having promised his mother he would not, but with middle age he felt he could handle a cocktail as well as the next man. He drank in moderation, but the legend would have him totally abstemious. Advertising liquor, however, was something else, and the FREE PRESS gave up a small fortune each year of its life turning down liquor ads. It served to buttress its independence. Advertisers who would dictate to the paper were rendered impotent, for how could they really hurt the FREE PRESS? If it could turn down legitimate liquor advertisement, why should it “play ball” with them just to get their business? Mr. Dick made principle somehow work. This is not easy.

“Let your spear know no brother,” he would quote from an upstanding man in public affairs early in the century. If you must fight, fight for a cause—impartially. Not that he loved a fight, for its own sake. He would neither run away from nor be rushed into a fight. “Everybody loves a dogfight,” he would say, while he debated whether a battle was necessary. Fighting for the sake of fighting is silly!

A man fought for a cause; to fight for any other reason was to be not a fighter but a bruiser.

He loved a clean blow. Say it if you must, in the public interest. If in doubt, cut it out. Never insinuate.

When a writer allowed his political feelings to get the better of him and damned a president by calling a previous one “not a swine,” Mr. Dick was furious.

“Would you have said he was not a swine if you did not mean to suggest that the other was?”

He was, indeed, a man to reckon with. If, for your own purposes, you tried to get around him, you would find it was useless. Sooner or later, you would be confronted with the truth and have to face, after him—yourself.

He thought of you as a man, not as a subordinate, and if you acted as you should, there could be no issue between the two of you. Sometimes, when he seemed too demanding, you would ask yourself what his game was? What was behind that formidable front? In the end, you would realize he had no game at all. It is impossible to see through most men, to see through the virtuous show, to see the man himself. In the case of Mr. Dick, one could not see through him because he was all there right in front of you. He believed in being true to certain things, and that, perhaps, was what made him seem incredible. How could he possibly mean it? But he did.

He believed in fairness, and carried his belief to what may seem to others fantastic lengths. When he was already ailing, he had to make a long trip by car to face trial on a libel charge. There were three of us on the back seat: Mr. Dick, our lawyer, then Rep. Emmanuel Pelaez, and myself. I was in the middle, Mr. Pelaez at my left, Mr. Dick at my right. We started early in the morning. The congressman had the sun on his face but did not mind. Mr. Dick, however, did, and half-way between Manila and Baguio told the driver to stop the car.

“You have had the sun on you half the way,” he said to Mr. Pelaez, showing his watch. “Now it is my turn. It is not right that you should be inconvenienced all the way. I can’t allow it.”

“But Mr. Dick,” the congressman protested, “I don’t mind the sun at all.”

“I can’t have you as you are all the way from Manila. I would not feel right.”

“Mr. Dick, you are an older man, and not well…”

“Please, humor this old man then.”

And slowly, painfully, the change in places was effected half-way between Manila and Baguio.

When he was not hard at work, or exploding over some mistake, his manners could be courtly and elaborate. Praise did not come casually from him. A note of appreciation would be as carefully composed as an essay, with words stricken out for others more precisely to the point; you knew exactly for what you were being praised. (You also knew exactly what you were getting hell for.) There was nothing lax about the man.

One never presumed on anything with him.

“That’s not the way I do business!” he once said, and the man he said it to never forget it.

“Order is heaven’s first law,” he would say. And order would reign on the desk of the man the note was sent to.

He had no use for servility; it could not be trusted. He would tell his staff with relish the story of the Englishman who went to America to look for work and, having found a place in a factory, immediately asked: “Who’s the management here? Whoever it is, I’m against it!”

He had a difficult life. He would speak of the bitter poverty of his childhood and of his father’s untimely death, leaving his mother as the family’s sole support. (She was known, among an honest people, as “the honest widow Dick.”) He would recall the early days of FREE PRESS, how he had a table in the office for a bed. His only indulgence was a single bottle of soft-drink at the end of the week. (How he looked forward to it!) It was hard going, indeed.

And there were his clashes with the American authorities. An American captain, or something, challenge him once to a duel. (He liked Taft. “It was at a banquet when Taft, with clenched hand and a trembling voice, said: ‘The Philippines for the Filipinos!’ F. Theo. Rogers and I were for Philippine independence and when we entered a restaurant we would hear them say, ‘There go those sons of bitches Rogers and Dick!’”) He did not know, he would say, how the FREE PRESS would have survived without the unsolicited help of Mr. Rogers…

He was always talking of his association with Mr. Rogers—and Don Alejandro Roces, Sr., of the Manila Times. Last week, at the necrological services of Mr. Dick, Joaquin Roces said of his father’s friend:

“Time is too short for us to record here the early career of his plain-speaking magazine, which in the span of a few short years gained the position of monitor for the government and the nation. But the time is never too short to omit mention of R. McCulloch Dick, the uncompromising Scot who maintained the simple creed: ‘The people can never be wrong.’

“In the spirit of tolerance that he brought to his task, there was always room for the little man who sought justice—but there was not an inch of space for the powerful in the land, the tycoons of government, the men who sat in the seats of the mighty-whether they were Filipinos or Americans—if they were not on the people’s side.

“R. McCulloch Dick was not the most tolerant of men where his most cherished ideals were concerned. There was a sign on the door of the FREE PRESS editorial rooms: ‘No crooks or grafters need apply.’ It may have been invisible, but it was there.

“R. McCulloch Dick left for us a heritage. It is not a formula for making money fast; it is not a prescription for getting close to the powers in the government. Those who accept it will be accepting a burden to carry—the burden of the journalist’s duty to the people.

“And this is a burden, indeed…

“My late father used to tell this story: It appears that Mr. Dick, toward the end of the Harrison administration, noted that the Governor General had been absenting himself from his office altogether too much. He opened an editorial campaign that shook the rafters in Malacañan. The governor, using his vast powers, ordered the deportation of the fighting editor-publisher. When the latter’s personal friends—among them my father and others whose opinion Mr. Harrison respected—intervened, the deportation order was rescinded, and Mr. Dick remained to steer of course of the FREE PRESS for the next 42 years. And never, before or since those eventful days in 1918, has the FREE PRESS ever taken a backward step from the ideas of R. McCulloch Dick—’The people can do no wrong!’

“This, then was R. McCulloch Dick: the man who had so much to give, and who gave it all to the people. He gave not because he was forced to give, but because he loved the people so much that he could not conceived being in opposition to anything that could possibly benefit them.”

Mr. Dick got in trouble, too, of course, with the Filipino authorities. Only fear of public opinion stopped the Liberal administration from deporting him. (Many of those whom his paper had hit the hardest would say, even as they hit back, “I have nothing against Mr. Dick himself.” And last week, at the necrological services, the press secretary of President Garcia was there to pay Mr. Dick tribute: “When future generations of our people ask who Mr. R. McCulloch Dick was, let it be said that he was a friend—a true friend of the Filipino people!”) But enough of his battles with the authorities.

“His many unreported deeds of kindness and generosity earned for him the love of his poor and unlettered neighbors who looked up to him not only as a man who was ever ready to champion their rights but also as one who was always there to help them meet their most pressing needs,” said Jose R. Arcangel of the National Press Club at the necrological services. “It was a touching scene, indeed, at the mortuary where he lay, to see fisherfolk from Malabon render their simple but eloquent tribute to the man who had been unsparing in his benefactions to them.”

He did what he had to do “without fanfare.” The story is told that when a correspondent of the American magazine Time was going to publish about him, Mr. Dick pleaded with the man to leave him alone. “I will pay you not to write about me.” He hated publicity, raised hell with Don Alejandro Roces, Sr., when a picture of them together during a fishing trip appeared in Don Alejandro’s paper.

He was a fighter, but a shy one. He fought—but only for what he considered the people’s good. When he spoke of their plight, it was with an urgency that came from direct contact. He lived among them, among the poor—as those discovered who saw for the first time, at his burial, the house where Mr. Dick lived. The poor were all around him. How could he disregard their need?

Many of our nationalists speak of the Filipino people and their needs most passionately, yet live in a world completely apart, a world of privilege and wealth. What can these know of the people? Mr. Dick was with the Filipino people in life and death. He is buried in the cemetery of the town of Malabon, Rizal, across thousands of miles from his native Scotland and 87 years later he came to find his final rest there.

He stood by what he said, bearing witness to his words by his deeds. Sincerity and disinterestedness marked his life, and an unqualified devotion to an ideal of the press as a force for the general good. “The truth will set you free,” he would say, believing it. He would permit no compromise. “We are no hucksters,” he would say to his staff. Thinking of him, one thinks of “those who were truly great.” Surely he is of their number—

Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.

Born of the sun they traveled

A short while toward the sun,

And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

He lived long but never faltered in his journey toward the light and the air is vivid with his honor.

End

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1 Comment

  1. I realized one doesn’t need popularity and wealth to become a great human being. He bears no shame being mediocre and his thoughts and principles ingrained so his true personality had the admiration of his peers. What I grasped was his sincere self because the life he was known for or his steering his followers especially his mingling with the lowly class and his stand on justice mirrored his goodness and humility. We may feel deprecate because Mr Dick was not born Filipino yet with a heart and love for this country. Thanks! This has raised a personal sentiment–it’s not the importance of material life anymore but the higher values in your humanity. No political name, no power, no luxury, no vanity will be your inscripted legacy. Mr. Dick is an archetype of life our next generation should own.

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