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Retail icon and ambassador Benny Tantoco dies at 100

By MILLET M. MANANQUIL, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 06, 2021 8:05 pm Updated Jul 07, 2021 9:57 am

He lived to be a healthy hundred and was able to ride his last twirl on his wheelchair which he loved to do with his grandson. 

Thus when well-loved retail industry icon and former Ambassador to the Vatican Bienvenido “Benny” Tantoco passed away at 1:06 a.m. today, July 6, it was a bit unexpected.

“We were ready to bring him home because he was all right after a week in the hospital,” his daughter Nedy Tantoco, chairman and CEO of Rustan Commercial Corporation said. But then the patriarch, who happily celebrated his 100th birthday last April 7, succumbed to pneumonia.

Lolo Benny, as he was fondly called, was lovingly cared for by his children  Rico Tantoco, Nedy Tantoco, Marilou T. Pineda, Menchu T. Lopez, Marilen Tantoco and Maritess T. Enriquez who took turns having meals with him and bringing him places.

“Even if it just meant letting him ride in the car to safely bring home his daughters who lived in the same neighborhood,” says youngest daughter Maritess who notes that her dad’s gentlemanly habits stayed with him till his last breath.

There will be a three-day private wake for family at the Tantoco residence, followed by Holy Mass at the Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Tantoco leaves behind a legacy of retailing lessons and  spiritual values to his six children, 21 grandchildren, 40 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild; as well as his children’s spouses Nena Vargas Tantoco, Eddie Pineda, Jun Lopez , Renato Enriquez and partner Patrick Jacinto.

Lolo Benny, as he was fondly called, was lovingly cared for by his children. He celebrated his 100th birthday in April. 

Tantoco came from a patriotic and entrepreneurial clan in Malolos, Bulacan started by Tan Tok Che, a Chinese trader. Of the 20 women whom Rizal addressed in his famous “Letters to the Women of Malolos,” nine were Tantoco women. Many Tantoco men were proudly part of the KKK’s Katipunan del Norte.

“Work hard, be punctual, be fair,” was the lesson inculcated in Tantoco’s mind by his father, Luis Buendia Tantoco, a farmer-fishing trader. Tantoco’s early exposure to the arts and culture came from his mother, Carmen Fabella Rufino, a music teacher who had four pianos at home.

Work hard he did, as Tantoco started taking jobs at age 16 at his relatives’ cinema chain while studying at night at Jose Rizal College where he finished Commercial Business. 

Tantoco was a perfect match to his entrepreneurial  wife Gliceria “Glecy”Rustia ,who was also a pianist. Together the couple started Rustan’s  in their San Marcelino home 65 years ago.

Both Benny and Glecy had a spiritual devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Divine Mercy and Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

His grandchildren picked up many lessons from their Lolo Benny. 

Anton T. Huang, president of Stores Specialists Inc., says, “He taught us a work ethic that kept us working 24/7. From Lolo Benny, we learned the importance of stewardship, professionalism and legacy.”

Donnie Tantoco, president of Rustan Commercial Corporarion who enjoyed giving his Lolo Benny his twirl on the wheelchair, listening to lessons and stories over breakfast with him, asserts, “Lolo Benny said a good day is one where we learn something new. He also taught me that “you reap what you sow. To sow means to love, to guide, to point people towards goodness, kindness and compassion.” 

Michael T. Huang  says his grandfather’s constant reminders were: “Always be a gentleman. Respect women.”

Junjun Lopez declares Lolo Benny had a special reminder: “Follow your wife.”

Dino T. Pineda, MJ Tantoco and Chris Tantoco likewise got their lessons on good manners and gentlemanly tips from their Lolo Benny. “The dining table was my classroom,” recalls MJ.

Marie Pineda-Adashek who specialized in film and TV production at NYU, says it was Lolo Benny who exposed her to symphonies and Broadway productions.

Catherine Huang-Endriga states that an important lesson from her grandfather stays on her mind, ”Treat people well, whether friend or employee.”