FLORENCIO Campomanes, the first Filipino – and Asian for that matter – to head the World Chess Federation (FIDE), died yesterday after a lingering illness. He was 83.
The chess icon, who stunned the world by capturing the FIDE presidency as an underdog in 1982 in Lucerne, Switzerland, breathed his last at 1:30 p.m. at Iggy’s Inn in Baguio City.
“He moved on peacefully, and with quiet gentleness all around him,” said Des Bautista, who built the Iggy’s Inn with wife, Auring, and which has become famous for its exotic, native cuisine and cozy rooms nestled among towering pines. “He was a giant in Philippine sports and his passing created a void that will be hard to fill in.”
Bautista and Campomanes – Pocams to his dear friends – had been bosom buddies since the Sixties.
“I lost a man who was more than a brother to me,” said Bautista. “And, if I may add, I also lost a poker mate, whose passion for and skills in the card game are rivalled only by his love for and deft-laden moves in chess.”
Before his ascent to chess officialdom, Campomanes, a national master, had been a professor of political science at the UP-Diliman and had also played for flag and country.
He was playing team captain, Philippine delegate and media reporter (he wrote columns for The Manila Times and the defunct Daily Express) in the Cuba World Chess Championship in the Sixties, with Carlos Benitez, Renato Naranja and Rodolfo Tan Cardoso as his teammates.
Until his election as FIDE president, Campomanes had been a virtual outsider as the world chess body was then dominated virtually by Europeans.
Under his watch, Campomanes, a linguist who also spoke Spanish fluently, literally opened the FIDE doors to the world – from Asia to Africa, from the Arab world to South America.
Using his battle cry, “One World Through Chess,” he courted non-chess playing nations to join FIDE, including the Middle East countries and such African countries like Tunisia and Nigeria and even Trinidad-Tobago.
In his pre-FIDE days, he produced Asia’s first grandmaster, the legendary Eugene Torre, in 1973.
Campomanes would also soon bring to the country the world’s top grandmasters from Europe and the United States for world-caliber tournaments, triggering a surge of the sport’s popularity.
His staging of the Karpov-Korchnoi World Championship Match in Baguio in 1978 would further cement Campomanes’ place in sports history, not to mention that he had also brought to the Philippines other former world chess champions like Tigran Petrosyan, Boris Spassky, Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer, not only once but many times.
Upon his rise to the FIDE presidency in 1982, Campomanes would quickly author a renaissance in chess, creating an atmosphere that also saw the sprouting of many more Filipino grandmasters.
In 2009, the University of Baguio awarded him a doctorate in humanities, honoris causa.
At the time of his death, Campomanes was the president emeritus of FIDE.
“It was his wish that we hold a short wake at Iggy’s Inn,” said Des. “His remains would be laid beside that of our son’s, Iggy, at the Baguio Cathedral.”
Internment to be announced later.