Mendoza: Bye, big dreamer

Time to sing praise to an extraordinary soul who had just passed on: Benny Gopez. He had slipped out so quietly, so quickly, so unexpectedly.

Hard of breathing, Benny was taken to the hospital at about three in the afternoon. He had undergone angioplasty (clearing blockades off his heart) thrice before. Doctors immediately set him up for a heart “balloon” procedure leading to a possible heart bypass. While on the operating table at 8 p.m. or thereabouts, Benny expired.

That sudden.

That was on Jan. 21, the death anniversary of my mother.

Benny would have turned 79 on Feb. 13.

“His heart gave up,” Lyn, Benny’s wife, told her friend, Sol.

Benny and Lyn had just arrived from the U.S., where they spent Christmas with their three children and grandkids.

An engineer by profession, Benny rose from salesman to a successful businessman. One of his boldest steps was to become the sole distributor of Mizuno golf equipment in the country.

Mizuno is one of Japan’s high-end sporting products, whose golf line is as pricey as Rolex watches.

Benny’s tune: “Filipinos have this fascination to own expensive products.”

His smashing Mizuno success helped catapult him to sporting leadership. From being the national golf association’s secretary general, he became its president in no time.

Under his watch, Benny brought the World Team Golf Championship to the country in 1996—a feat that will not happen again in 50 years as per the rotation basis of hosting by continent.

From golf, Benny, egged on by his peers, went on as volleyball president. Always a big dreamer, he brought the FIVB World Volleyball tilt to Manila in 2000. The event saw the rise to stardom of Brazilian Leila Barros, who became the crowd darling during the entirety of the smashingly successful tournament.

In a press conference in Versailles, France, on the eve of the 1994 World Team Golf championship, Benny pulled off a jaw-dropping stunner.

“Mr. Woods, please sign this cap that I will bring home to my son,” Benny told Tiger Woods seated at the presidential table. “I will owe you a debt of gratitude for the rest of my life.”

“I do not sign autographs, but for you, Sir, I will break my vow,” said Tiger Woods, then 19.

That Mizuno cap has remained one of Benny’s most prized possessions.

Rest in peace, my friend. Good job.