Each year for the past several years, University President Michael Engh, S.J. or Vice President Jim Lyons has traveled to the Philippines to spend time with valued University trustee, alumnus, and longtime SCU supporter, Jon Aboitiz ’70, chair of the Philippines-based Aboitiz Equity Ventures, one of that country’s largest conglomerates.
Before they arrived at his home, Jon would have set up a table behind the dining area, piled high with Santa Clara University clothing, gear, swag, and collectibles. He would point to it proudly as physical evidence of his years of affection for his alma mater, where more than two dozen members of his family have also attended.
“His kids, Sofia Aboitiz ’09, Juan Aboitiz ’10, and Eduardo Aboitiz ’11, used to love when he’d come to Santa Clara for meetings,” said Lyons. “He would come home loaded down with Santa Clara gear for them.”
Sadly, Lyons traveled to the Philippines in early December to join Sofia, Juan, Eduardo, and Jon’s wife Maria to mourn the loss of Jon Aboitiz, who died Nov. 30 at age 70 from a lingering illness. His two funerals in Cebu and Manila were both well-attended, with many guests mentioning his warmth, honorable business dealings—and his love of SCU. Engh and Lyons will travel again to Cebu in April for a memorial Mass.
Aboitiz’s affection for Santa Clara clearly rubbed off on his children, each of whom graduated from SCU. But then again, they were also following in a family tradition: dozens of other members of the Aboitiz clan are Broncos, starting with the cousin of Jon’s father, Luis Aboitiz ’51. Santa Clara has about 150 alumni in the Philippines, the fourth-largest country for Bronco alumni from outside of the U.S.
The family business Jon Aboitiz joined in 1970 was one of the largest in the Philippines, with operations in energy and power, banking, food, real estate and infrastructure. He was a fourth-generation leader, the grandson of Don Ramon Aboitiz, whose father Paulino Aboitiz started the business to trade in the hemp product abaca as well as in general merchandise, after he moved from Spain to Ormoc, Leyte. The family later moved the business to Cebu.
Jon Aboitiz was also a member of the board of advisors of The Coca-Cola Export Corp. (Philippines), the Association of Foundations, and Pilipinas Kao, Inc.
His legacy will include a recent gift from the foundation he led, the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc (RAFI), to help create a social-enterprise accelerator in Cebu, Philippines. In partnership with Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and the University of San Carlos, the three-year project will help “develop a vibrant ecosystem capable of building the capacity of promising social entrepreneurs in Cebu and across the islands in the Philippines,” Jon explained recently.
The Aboitiz family has interesting ties to SCU’s Jesuit, Ignatian roots, as well. The clan traces its roots to the Basque region of Spain, which was home to St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuit Order. The Aboitiz family were shepherds in Spain, leaving in the late 19th century when Paulino, then a mariner, moved from the Basque region to Leyte island in the Philippines. He was pursuing both new fortune and a new love— the daughter of his shipping merchant boss and Paulino’s future wife, Emilia Yrastoza y Torres.
For more on Jon Aboitiz’s life, read this story in the Filipino press: https://business.inquirer.net/261487/jon-aboitiz-industry-titan-storyteller-dies-at-70
And the memorial on the company website: https://aboitiz.com/remembering-jra