Many people received awards and adulations for their outstanding achievements. Still, very few have had the honor of having a flower named after them.
精东影业 (UP) Regent Nelia Teodoro Gonzalez, who passed on last June 19 at 97, is one of these individuals.
The gumamela or hibiscus flower that bears her name, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Nelia T. Gonzalez’, was the first of the “Oblation Series” of hibiscus launched by the Institute of Plant Breeding, College of Agriculture (now the College of Agriculture and Food Science), UP Los Ba帽os, bred by Dr. Pablito M. Magdalita and Mr. Reynold B. Pimentel, as part of UP Los Ba帽os’ contribution to the UP Centennial celebration. In the early summer of 2006, Regent Gonzalez accepted this honor during an occasion that also marked the launching of the Nelia T. Gonzalez Alumni Service Award and the Nelia Teodoro-Gonzalez Professorial Chair Grants.
In a column published in the on April 4, 2006, columnist Domini M. Torrevillas recalled the event: “Dr. Desiree M. Hautea, who presented the Hibiscus tribute…said the Hibiscus was named after the honoree because ‘Hibiscus is the Queen of Flowers and therefore, a fitting title to a lady who holds court wherever she goes inside and outside her house.’ The gumamela is bright orange, with prominent red-eye and yellow edges. Orange is flamboyant, energetic, and vibrant, reflecting the honoree’s strength, enthusiasm, fascination, success, and encouraging quality. Dr. Hautea said, ‘Truly, it is not the flower that honors the woman. It is the woman that lends honor to the flower and the University that developed it, with her name.'”
What’s in a name?
The life of UP Regent Nelia T. Gonzalez, or Tita Nelia, as she was fondly called by friends and colleagues, gives weight behind the name of the flower bred to honor her.
Almost eighty years after she graduated from UP, Nelia Teodoro Gonzalez has come to be known by her many titles: agriculturist, agro-industrialist, social entrepreneur, resource developer, public administrator, civil servant, UP Regent, president of the UPLB Alumni Association, vice-president of the UP Alumni Association, a host of leadership titles in numerous agribusiness corporations, organizations, and foundations, holder of a UP Doctor of Laws degree, honoris causa, one of the UPAA Lifetime Distinguished Achievements awardees named during its centennial in 2013, an icon for the Philippine agribusiness industry, and one of the University’s most outstanding alumni, a veritable pillar of the UP community.
Following the footsteps of her agriculturist father, Gonzalez earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Plant Pathology from the College of Agriculture (CA), UPLB, in 1944, marching as the only female graduate in her batch. Later, she earned her Certificate of Government Management from the UP College of Public Administration in UP Diliman in 1977.
Agriculturist, agro-industrialist, entrepreneur
After graduating from the UPCA, she served briefly as an agronomist at the Bureau of Plant Industry. She later helped the late industrialist Salvador Araneta manage the Araneta Institute of Agriculture (now the De Salle Araneta University) and the Republic Flour Mills (RFM). Finally, she served as General Manager and Vice President of RFM. She worked with a capable team to accomplish many things. National Scientist and former UP President Dr. Emil Q. Javier, in his essay first published in the on February 24, 2018, cited the lasting impacts of these achievements on the animal industry.
He writes: “Easily the most notable contribution of Tita Nelia and her team was the introduction of broiler poultry contract growing. RFM was the first integrator, providing day-old chicks, feeds, veterinary supplies, and growing technology to contract growers and buying back the birds at competitive prices. The scheme proved to be very successful, and the rest of the industry followed suit. As a result, to date, the broiler industry is one of our most productive and regionally competitive sectors in agriculture.”
Later, through the Punla sa Tao Foundation (PSFTI), which she headed, Gonzalez helped organized backyard poultry raisers into a cooperative, mobilized support from local government units, linked them with a microfinance entity (Sikap Bidani), and enrolled them with an integrator, Bounty Corporation–all done in a model small farmers contract growing scheme called Manok Mabuhay Program.
Gonzalez was also a pioneer in the local production of corn and soybean hybrid seeds with the establishment of Phil Hi-Bred, Inc. in the early 1970s. “Sourcing the original seed parent materials from Pioneer Hi-Bred Seed Company in Iowa and mobilizing local expertise,” Dr. Javier writes, “she established hybrid seed production operations in South Cotabato, in a 40-hectare farm in Naujan Oriental Mindoro and a 1,000-hectare farm in Bansud, also in Oriental Mindoro.”
After working for the RFM group, Gonzalez established ventures into real estate development, commercial fishing, and corn hybrid seed production. In 1980, she was named Assistant Minister of Agriculture by President Ferdinand Marcos. She played a vital role in the banner agriculture programs of the time鈥擬asagana 99, Masaganang Maisan, Pagkain Bayan at Gulayan sa Kalusugan, and Bakahang Barangay. In addition, she supported area marketing cooperatives and credit and farm insurance.
Throughout her illustrious career as an agro-industrialist, she established a pest control management business, a livestock and poultry magazine, and an agribusiness company. In addition, she served in the Manila Overseas Press Club board and introduced contract growing in the Philippines to enhance the partnership between the feed miller and the poultry raiser to assure an equitable sharing of profit in the animal industry. She also served at the helm of various real estate and agro-industrial businesses and rural communities.
UP Pahinungod volunteer, UP Regent, Loyal Daughter of UP
Dr. Javier describes Gonzalez’s commitment to UP as “legendary.” And in an interview with on July 6, 2015, Gonzalez herself mentions having served the University in various capacities graduating from UPCA.
In fact, during the 44th UPLB commencement ceremonies held on June 25, 2016, when Gonzalez was conferred the Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, she noted in her acceptance speech that she has been serving UP for more than 70 years, shaping the future of the University both personally and professionally.
Her involvement with the UP Ugnayan ng Pahinungod inspired the spirit of volunteerism in others, especially among UP students and alumni.
Later, Gonzalez would consider her position as a UP Regent the most fulfilling assignment she has ever assumed.
Her leadership in various UP alumni associations has left an indelible impact upon these UP alumni chapters and the university. For instance, as President of the UP College of Agriculture Alumni Association, she helped organize the presidents of different college alumni associations in UPLB to form a federation, the UPLB Alumni Association.
Aside from her business network, Gonzalez built extensive linkages with influential political figures, national women’s organizations, national and local government agencies, and media people. She made full use of these linkages to become an effective fund-raiser, spearheading the fund-raising for the construction of the UPLB Alumni Center. As UPLBAA president, she successfully raised funds to support scholarships and professorial chairs for UPLB. In addition, she was instrumental in constructing the UPLB Rizal Centenary Carillon, which was inaugurated by President Fidel V. Ramos and the Ang Bahay ng Alumni in UP Diliman during her term as UPAA Vice President.
The University recognizes her numerous achievements. The same day she was honored with the gumamela that bears her name, the Nelia T. Gonzalez Alumni Service Award was launched. During the annual UPLB Loyalty Day and Alumni Homecoming, the award is given to UPLB graduates who exemplify indefatigable service to the University. It is named after her in recognition of her services to UP and the country. As if having an award named after her didn’t honor her enough, Dr. Javier also launched the Nelia T. Gonzalez Professorial Chair Grants during the same event.
Years after, Gonzalez was awarded the UPAA Lifetime Distinguished Achievements Award on June 22, 2013鈥攄uring UPAA’s centennial year鈥攖o recognize her accomplishments as one of the country’s first top female executives and for inspiring generations of women across Southeast Asia with her business acumen.
Civic organizer, advocate, private citizen with a mission
During the conferment of her honorary degree, Gonzalez discussed her engagements with communities as Trustee of the Philippine Constitution Association and member of the Consultative Commission for Charter Change. In addition, she underscored her mission “to serve the public as a private individual.” For example, she served on the board of the Philippine Tuberculosis Society and foundations such as ERDA Tech, which provided quality education to children from low-income households.
As an advocate for gender equality, she chaired the UP Center for Women’s Studies Foundation, Inc. She championed the cause of entrepreneurs as chair of the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation (SERDEF), a resource hub for SMEs in continuing partnership with UP Institute for Small-Scale Industries. As an expression of her spirituality, she also chaired the Order of the Carmelite Scholastics at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Carmel.
She performed her public service duties well into her 90s. The story of her life will live on in Nelia T. Gonzalez: An Entrepreneur’s Journey (UPLBAA, 2015), a book of essays by UPLB faculty members and researchers. Scholars in agriculture, development, and women’s studies may also read about her in Nelia T. Gonzalez: The Woman, Her Life, Her Legacy (SEAMEO-SEARCA, 2002).
UP Regent Nelia T. Gonzalez is survived by her family of six children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.