OPINION: How did a Zobel fall in love with a McMicking?

Buddy Gomez - Cyberbuddy

Posted at Aug 10 2017 07:52 PM

(Sixth of a series. Click here for other entries.) 

About two weeks ago, a follower of this blog gave vent to a natural curiosity with a knowledgeable query. How did a Zobel fall in love with a McMicking? Mercedes Zobel eventually marrying Joseph R. McMicking, of course. 

Joseph McMicking and Mercedes Zobel-McMicking. Photo courtesy of The Joseph and Mercedes McMicking Foundation

Without having to intrusively nosey in on love affairs, marriage matches and society weddings of the past, the curiosity of our reader may perhaps really be couched in these terms: How did an heiress to a major fortune in the country fall in love and eventually marry her ‘prince charming’ who did not come from equal financial moorings. Joe McMicking was the oldest son of a civil servant (Sheriff of Manila and Clerk of Court), Jose McMicking, while Mercedes was the daughter of a Philippine tycoon with vast businesses and properties, Don Enrique Zobel de Ayala.

Before I proceed providing answers, I must declare that I am not an infallible story-teller. There have been many attempts to write and retell the Roxas-Zobel-Ayala story in the past, albeit never a family-authorized endeavor. The Ayalas have been notably and consistently shy and reticent about publicity. There may be earlier researchers, the veracity of whose output may contain superior information than what I am able to come up with. There is one big difference, however. I am personally acquainted with and known to the object of this series. Let me put it this way: I am a McMicking acolyte! And proud of it. (My crowd of Ayala ‘knowledgeables’ are fast dwindling.) Be that as it may, I will always welcome verified superior corrections and own up to inadvertent errors, should these surface.

In the course of our story-telling, it will appear that Joe McMicking, by force of circumstances, turned out to be the “white knight,’ with his personal funds, frugally earned and marshalled, that was to rescue from threatening oblivion and jump start the resurgence of the Ayala fortunes after World War II left most of Manila in shambles.

Mercedes Zobel de McMicking is quoted to have said admiringly of her beloved Joe--“He was the one who made us (meaning, the Roxas-Zobel-Ayala family) rich again.” Her father, Don Enrique Zobel de Ayala, nearing his death bed (February 17 1943) is remembered to have uttered in desperation: “We are ruined. Everything our forefathers have worked for has been lost.” But we are getting ahead of the story.

Let us return to old Manila during the first decade of the 20th century. The McMickings and the Zobels lived in the same neighborhood in Malate, the choice residential area of Manila’s elite (those of ‘de buenas familias,’) at the start of the American era in the Philippines. The Zobels lived in a mansion fronting Manila Bay, while the McMicking residence was in an inner street (Dakota, now renamed Adriatico). In the prevailing architecture of the day, I believe it was a “chalet,” a one story affair, with a steep roof, elevated from the ground by a few feet, surrounded by a garden and a fountain in the front.

Mrs. Jose McMicking (Angelina) belonged to the Ynchausti family. When the Americans came, it has been noted that the two biggest business concerns in Manila then were the Tabacalera and the Ynchausti and Co. (YCO was noted for paints, shipping, cordage, among others). 

It appears that Dona Consuelo Roxas de Zobel, mother of Mercedes and Dona Angelina de McMicking, mother of Joe, were good friends, coming as they do from the ‘crème de la crème’ of Manila’s society. Mercedes (born May 5, 1907) was older by 10 months over Joe (March 23 1908). McMicking family lore somewhat recalls that when Joe was born, he was visited by Baby Mercedes. Dona Consuelo bringing her infant daughter, Mercedes, to visit a family friend upon the birth of her eldest child, christened Jose Rafael McMicking. (Eventually, Joseph R. McMicking). It is indeed possible that as toddlers, Mercedes and Joe played together whenever mothers exchanged visits.

Mercedes was to go off to Paris and Madrid for her education while Joe was off to California, for his educational advancement. It is also indeed very possible that the eldest McMicking daughter, a year younger than Joe, was named Consuelo, after Mercedes’s mom! Indications of close affinity among the families.

It is therefore, no surprise that when Consuelo McMicking was to get married, she chose Mercedes to be her “bride’s maid.” Consuelo McMicking was bethroted to an expatriate Scottish businessman, Alastair “Shorty” Hall. He had a seat in the Manila Stock Exchange and was highly successful both as businessman and as sportsman. He was a very low handicap champion golfer. And big brother Joe was to be the “Best Man” of Consuelo’s and Shorty’s wedding. 

ROMANTIC MAGIC 

During the banquet reception, it was the very first dance of Joe with Mercedes. It was the first time that they had met again, this time as young adults. Romantic magic was kindled that evening. Love blooming. This was in June 30, 1930. In less than a year, April 15, 1931, Mercedes and Joe were married in an evening ceremony at the San Agustin Church in Intramuros. I am certain that there are social notes and news coverage of this wedding, a major Manila Society event, after all, that can be mined from the archives of pre-war newspapers. It would indeed be very interesting to be able to go through the society pages, time and opportunity permitting, to read and relive the Mercedes and Joseph nuptials.

Many years into the future, the Joseph McMicking – Mercedes Zobel union was to become the fortuitous foundation of a new fortune that arose from a swath of mostly unproductive horse-fodder grassland. None of the clan members on either side of this marriage would have ever had an inkling of what was to descend upon the fate of the Philippine Islands. The country was approaching its entry into international affairs as the new Philippine Commonwealth, with a final indication of a date for her Independence. While the world wide economic depression was beginning to ebb, war clouds were not at all in the horizon.

As we hark back into the past, indeed it becomes providential, for the would-be father-in-law of Joe McMicking, Don Enique Zobel de Ayala, the absolute headman and principal proprietor of Ayala and Compania to have invited Joe McMicking to become a ‘managing partner,” after all he was now to be part of the family and all its business concerns. An offer he could not refuse! Aside from a much better salary package, he was now to enter into the Ayala realm of business success and prominence. He was at the time, an employee of the Insular Life (IL) and the Universal Insurance, part of the ‘stable’ of companies under the control of Don Enrique. IL-FGU was beginning to be the country’s most prominent and successful insurance conglomerate.

NEXT ON McMICKING 

The other request from another of our readers centers upon the circumstances under which Joe McMicking joined the Philippine Army Air Corps and subsequently, the United States Armed Forces in the Far East, the USAFFE, at the onset of World War II. We shall deal with this aspect of JRM’s life in a subsequent blog.

The City of Norfolk in Virginia, USA hosts the MacArthur Memorial. This public facility is dedicated to the memory Five-Star General Douglas MacArthur. Among its many facilities are a Museum and an Archives/Library section. A couple of years ago, I was able acquire some documents coming from declassified sub-files that belonged to the folios of Generals Willoughby and Sutherland. Joe McMicking served under them during the war years.

Among the papers that relate to Joseph R. McMicking, one was labeled “Excerpt from rough draft of autobiography that was never completed.” This folio deals mainly with his being a pilot. It is evident from this that although he was averse to drumbeating and self-promotion while still alive, decidedly, Joe McMicking had planned to be remembered long after he is gone.