WASHINGTON — Eduardo Navarra (pictured above), who served as National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) National Chairman from 2010-2014, died Aug. 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!!!”
Youth mentor and champion
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.”
Rebuilding NaFFAA’s infrastructure
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.”
During his four-year term, NaFFAA started rebuilding its infrastructure to strengthen the FilAmVote program, a key vehicle for political empowerment in this country.
Internally, he paved the way for a revision of NaFFAA’s By-Laws, the creation of the Board of Governors, and publication of a monthly newsletter.
He also expanded regional memberships by partitioning Region 3 into East and West, due to rapid growth among Midwest states.
Armin Sayson, Region 3East Chairman, remembers Navarra as always setting high standards for officers and members of the region to strive for and maintain.
“As a leader, he recognized the talent within the region and mentored the individuals who would replace him,” Sayson says.
“I am grateful that Ed encouraged me to take on a leadership role within the region. He always told me, ‘Panahon mo na, Armin!’ Until the day he died, Ed continued to provide advice, guidance and friendship.”
Navarra’s long track record of outstanding community service started from the community where he and his family had resided for many years — Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
He became an editor of a Filipino-American newspaper, and an agent in promoting Philippine-based performers to raise funds for local organizations in Michigan.
His leadership at the Filipino American Community Council (FILAMCCO) brought relevant fundraising initiatives that fueled the organization’s projects for the Filipino-American community.
FILAMCCO is the umbrella organization of over 52 Filipino-American organizations in Michigan.
Navarra was one of the founding members of the Council of Asian Pacific Americans (CAPA), which is a consortium of Asian-Pacific organizations and leaders composed of Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Asian-Indian, Filipino and other Asian Pacific groups in Metro Detroit.
In 2003, Navarra became NaFFAA Region 3 Chair, occupying the same position four times.
During his term, he organized highly successful regional conferences and the hosting of the 6th national conference in Chicago in 2004.
In 2006, he received the prestigious Presidential “Banaag Award” for Community Service by then Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
A dedicated Republican Party member, Navarra was appointed by the Republican National Committee in 2013, one of four Filipino-American leaders to sit in the Asian Pacific American Advisory Council.
After completing his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in FEATI University in the Philippines in 1965, he worked for Northern Motors Company.
In 1967, he immigrated to the United States and completed his master’s in computer & electronics systems engineering from the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.
He worked at Burroughs Company, then transferred to Ford Motor Company in 1973, where he worked for 30 years as systems engineer until his retirement in 2003.
The youngest of three children, Eduardo Navarra was born on Oct. 27, 1944 and grew up in Sigma Capiz, Philippines.
He is survived by his wife Dr. Victoria Gallardo Navarra; their children John, Laura and Nicole; daughter-in-law Rachel; sons-in-law Jeffrey Haxer and Kyle Winkelman; and grandchildren Tristan, Lucas, Evelyn, Eleanor and Zoe Victoria.
(Ryan Tejero and Emraida Kiram contributed to this press statement.)