WASHINGTON, D.C. — Eduardo Navarra, who served as NaFFAA national chairman in 2010-2014, died last August 26 of intracranial hemorrhage. He was surrounded by his family, who kept vigil for days until he passed away at the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital of Oakland in Pontiac, Michigan. He was 72.
“We lost a pillar of the community,” says NaFFAA National Chairman Brendan Flores. “Tito Ed was always extremely dedicated and we all looked up to him with great admiration and respect. He was the epitome of servant leadership. His legacy will live on.”
A charter member of NaFFAA, Navarra was among the nearly 2,000 Filipino American community leaders who converged in Washington, D.C. in August 1997 to organize the first National Empowerment Conference (NEC). Michigan sent one of the largest delegations to the historic event, due in no small measure to Navarra’s influence. He has consistently attended all 12 national gatherings in the last 19 years.
“Ed Navarra was completely dedicated to NaFFAA and its empowerment goals,” says Loida Nicolas Lewis, National Chair Emeritus and one of the founders of the organization. “He shepherded NaFFAA when it needed tender loving care, infusing it with his passion for advocacy, especially on issues that matter to Filipinos in the United States. We are all enriched by his leadership.”
Greg Macabenta, whom Navarra succeeded as National Chair, calls his passing “a great loss to NaFFAA and to the entire Filipino-American community. He was dedicated to the cause of unity and empowerment and he worked hard at it – but he went about it in his own charming way, always good-natured and always with that mischievous quip in the course of a heated discussion. Ed was also a very sweet and thoughtful person. On at least two occasions after a NaFFAA conference, he handed me a box of chocolates to bring home to my wife.”
Board Member Rozita Lee also remembers Navarra as a delightful person with a wry sense of humor, which has endeared him to many friends and colleagues. “He kept us laughing all the time, providing comic relief especially after a tense discussion,” she says.
Adds Gloria T. Caoile, National Vice Chair Emeritus and a NaFFAA founder: “We love the way he loved life, his devotion to his wife Vicky and his children and grandchildren, and the way he laughed about the absurd things that came his way.” Caoile notes that on his Facebook page, Navarra posted as his personal motto this tongue-in-cheek quote: “To reach for the sublime and the ridiculous !!!”
Navarra attended his last National Empowerment Conference held four weeks ago in Philadelphia, as a member of NaFFAA Region 3 East. “Although he looked frail and weak, he told me he came because he wanted to be there to celebrate a millennial moment, when youth leadership at the national level becomes a reality,” recalls Rita Gerona Adkins, a Washington, D.C.-based journalist and colleague. “I could tell from his broad smile after the conference that he felt something truly significant happened, that he was thinking, happily, for the young leaders who are now taking leadership roles and, hopefully, bring NaFFAA to even greater success.”
Region 10 Chair Myrna Farinas Reyes recalls how Navarra called her a number of times during the planning of the 2014 NEC in San Diego, Calif. “He wanted to make sure we gave the younger generation the lead in chairing the planning committee,” she says. “We listened to his advice. As a result, we had a very successful conference headed by our youth leaders, working hand in hand with their elders.”
Among the young people Navarra mentored is Kelly Ilagan, who studied International Studies and Political Science at Michigan State University. Inspired by Navarra, she attended the NEC in Philadelphia for the first time. “Tito Ed was a father figure who believed in me,” she says. “He encouraged my generation to be engaged in our country’s political process. Everyone claims to want the youth to be involved in community organizations, but he always acted on it.”
In his acceptance speech after being sworn in as National Chair in 2010, Navarra vowed to re-establish NaFFAA’s political presence in the nation’s capital through active advocacy, voter education, corporate partnerships and coalition building.
“While we will continue to be concerned about events in the Philippines, our collective energies will be directed towards issues that affect our community here in the U.S.,” he declared.
“We will undertake these initiatives not as an umbrella organization but as an equal partner with other national formations and local groups that have a stake in protecting and promoting the interests of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans in this country.”