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In Memory of Mel Tobias


Mel Tobias

Mel Tobias (1939-2017), a world wanderer, was a man of many parts with many friends who loved him. He was always looking for “a place where his spirit can run free.” He found “his corner of the sky” in Vancouver, British Columbia. He became the quintessential Vancouverite – learning, earning, yearning and living for life. He made every minute of his life count.

Mel’s international career started on November 16, 1969 when he left Manila at age 29 and a high-profile academic job as Director of External Affairs at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM). An only child, university educated in an exclusive boys’ school, financially stable, envied and admired by his peers, over-protected and spoiled by loving parents, he wanted to recreate himself  in a place where  no one was judged  by his birthright or pedigree. That place was Hong Kong, just an hour and a half away by plane from Manila, where people were too busy to talk about the past because what mattered only was the present.

In Hong Kong Mel worked as Promotions Director at San Miguel (Hong Kong) Brewery and as a film writer for many publications. He was the only one in Hong Kong who organized film screenings with complimentary Magnolia ice cream.  He was a movie critic with connections all over the world and was a regular at the Cannes Film Festivals in the South of France.  He authored a trilogy of books on Asian cinema: Flashbacks: Hong Kong Cinema After Bruce Lee, Memoirs of an Asian Moviegoer, and One Hundred Acclaimed Tagalog Movies.

Mel moved to Canada on November 16, 1993  and settled in Vancouver where he practiced his many moving parts as movie critic, lifestyle and entertainment editor, author, foreign correspondent,  amateur  actor, broadcaster, festivalier,  impresario for the arts, proprietor  of a vintage  collectibles boutique,  frustrated saloon singer,  gourmet who knew where all the good eating place were, and an avid collector of esoteric and nostalgia recordings and books.  In his last article for CFNet and Dahong Pilipino titled, “Filipinos in Lotusland,” about the history of Filipinos in Canada particularly in Vancouver, he would likely belong to the third group of expatriate Filipinos that he called “The Nouveau Immigrants” who arrived in the 1990s.

In Vancouver Mel created for himself a family of friends who shared with him the joyful life of living it and bonded with him through the power of friendship. We at CFNet and Dahong Pilipino are honoured to be part of his vast Vancouver family.

Precious Mel, your passing has left a big hole in my heart that cannot be filled no matter  how much  I eat of the Lotus plant  which you said could “induce a dreamy and contented state.” I will miss your thoughtful phone calls and generous time spent with us in illness when we needed a caring shoulder to lean on.  I will remember you most every holiday throughout the year when you were always the first to call with your best wishes. God bless, dearest friend. We love you.

Eleanor and Prod, grieving with your heartbroken Vancouver family

What the media say of Mel

a world wanderer…a man of many parts with many friends who loved him… the quintessential Vancouverite – learning…living for life…movie critic, lifestyle and entertainment editor, author, foreign correspondent, amateur actor, broadcaster, festivalier, impresario for the arts, proprietor of a vintage collectibles boutique, frustrated saloon singer, gourmet… and an avid collector of esoteric and nostalgia recordings and books.
Canadian Filipino Net, Oct 2017

…community pillar… adored and esteemed in and outside the Filipino Canadian community for his joyous celebration of life… elevat(ed) the standing of Filipino Canadians in their adopted country through his work in community publications in Vancouver…always sought to highlight the positive contributions of what he described as “global Filipino Canadians”.
Georgia Straight, Oct 2017

…respected journalist and arts connoisseur ….passionate about the arts… a lover of film, theatre, music…a kind-hearted soul, and a mentor to many…
Philippine Asian Chronicle, Oct 2017

…erudite…a generous spirit…prolific writer…lived a full life and will be missed by the community he loves so much…
Philippine Canadian News, Oct 2017

When you’re young, you pursue your lofty goals because you want to prove something either for yourself or for someone. When you grow old, it’s no longer about making money or garnering accolades. It’s about finding your inner peace.
Mel Tobias as quoted in Canadian Filipino Net, Nov 2016

Achievements of Mel Tobias

Philippines, 1939- 1968

Education: De la Salle College, Manila, Philippines
Employment: Director of External Affairs, Asian Institute of Management

Hongkong , 1969 – 1992
– Promotions Director, San Miguel Brewery (Hongkong)
– host of Off the Beaten Track, a BBC radio production
– movie critic and regular at the Cannes Film Festivals in the South of France
– film festivalier
– writer/contributor to international publications: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Hongkong Standard

Vancouver, BC, Canada: 1993-2017

Books (Non-Fiction):
Flashbacks: Hongkong Cinema After Bruce Lee
Memoirs of an Asian Moviegoer
One Hundred Acclaimed Tagalog Movies, Peanut Butter Publishing, Vancouver BC, 1998.
Life Letters: Stories of a Wanderer, an autobiography in letters, New Hogarth Press, Vancouver, BC. 2003.

– creative editor, Living Today Magazine
– editor/columnist, Dahong Pilipino
– entertainment and Lifestyle Editor, Philippine Chronicle, 1994-2004
– columnist, “Living in Vancouver”, Philippine Star, one of Manila’s leading mainstream daily newspapers
– Life and Leisure Columnist, Planet Philippines
– co-writer with Kenson Ho, Elite Gen, a lifestyle global glossy magazine of Sing Tao
– writer/contributor, Canadian Filipino Net, a nationwide on-line magazine on Canadian Filipino issues, 2016 to current
– writer/contributor to Georgia Straight, Vancouver’s leading entertainment weekly

– host, Club Filipino, first Filipino radio program in English on FM Stereo in BC, weekly, on Fairchild Radio, 1998-1999

Arts and Culture Productions

– Director, Nick Joaquin’s classic Portrait of an Artist as Filipino, a dramatic reading, Parkhill Hotel, Vancouver, 1998
– Playwright and Director, Life Letters: Stories of a Wanderer, an Epistolary Play, Vancouver Heritage Hall and Victoria, BC, early 2000
– Co-founder and Artistic Director Anyone Can Act Theatre (ACAT), 2012 – current.
Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, a staged reading of the Nick Joaquin classic of the same title, performed by ACAT, Richmond Gateway Theatre, 2012
Stumbling through Paradise, a staged reading of excerpts of the Eleanor Guerrero-Campbell novel Stumbling Through Paradise: A Feast of Mercy for Manuel del Mundo, performed by ACAT, Now and Then Art Gallery, 2015

Major Cultural Presentations:
– Brush with Strangers: A Group Art Exhibit, Again Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC, 2013
Dorothy Uytengsu and Victoria Francisco on Fazioli, a Piano Duet Concert, Aberdeen Centre, Richmond, BC, November 2015.
Book Launch of Stumbling through Paradise: A Feast of Mercy for Manuel del Mundo by Eleanor Guerrero-Campbell, Creekside Community Centre, Vancouver BC, May 2016.
Everytime We Say Goodbye: An Evening of Classic Torch Songs with Armi Grano and Friends, Kaya Malay Bistro, Vancouver BC, July 2016.
An Exhibition of Barong Filipino, a cultural fashion show, Philippine Consul General Offices Vancouver BC, October 2016 (In Partnership with the Consulate General of the Philippines)
Celebrating the Miguel and Julia Tecson Collection, UBC Museum of Anthropology, May 2015 (In partnership with the Consulate General of the Philippines, UBC MOA, Explorasian)
The Blossoming, a Kelly Hwang art exhibit and fundraiser for the Minerva Foundation for BC Women, Shangrila Hotel, 2010
Filipino Film Nights, screening and discussion of notable Filipino Films, UBC Main Exchange, August 2017 (A Co-production with Dahong Pilipino and Vancouver Asia Heritage Month Society)
A Musical Soiree, a fundraiser for Multicultural Helping House Society, Vancouver Lawn and Tennis Club, 2007

Cultural Enterprises:
– Again Collectible Store, W. Broadway, Vancouver BC
– Again Gallery, W. Broadway, Vancouver BC

– Recognition by City of Vancouver Mayor Arts Awards, in Memoriam, 2017
– Maharlika Award for Outstanding Achievement in Arts and Culture, 2011

In Memory of Mel donations to the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation are welcome and would be appreciated.
To donate, click HERE

Stories about Mel

We invite you, Mel’s friends, to submit a memory of Mel that stands out for you. Something memorable for you. Something that shows a characteristic of Mel that you value. Make it specific.

For example: not ‘Mel always mentored people in the creative arts”, but something like this:

“Mel encouraged me to submit a portion of my novel in progress to Rice Paper the Asian Canadian Literary magazine. He introduced me to the Rice Paper founder Jim Wong Chu one day at his book shop, resulting in the publication of Angel of Salubungan a short story excerpt from my novel. The publication of this short story helped to eventually get my novel published entitled Stumbling through Paradise: A Feast of Mercy for Manuel del Mundo, a novel about the immigrant experience of Filipinos in Canada.”

Another example: not “Mel was so knowledgeable about films and musicals and a great promoter of arts and artists…” but something like this:

“Mel could recite the titles of songs from musicals, the actors who performed the songs in what year. He could name the director of the musical and in what stage and city it was performed. He kept a collection of musicals on CDs and kept coffee table books about them. He encouraged 6 amateurs, of which 3 were total neophytes including me and my husband Clay, to actually perform in a torch song concert with the accomplished jazz singer Armi Grano, practicing night after night with Kenson Ho on the piano. And so it was on a night in July 2016, the concert entitled “Every time We Say Goodbye: An Evening of Torch Songs” was held at the Kaya Malay Bistro in Vancouver. A CD of the concert was produced, and of course, generous Mel had to give me as well the CD of the musical from which the song which I sang – Send in the Clowns – originated.”

We would appreciate if you could keep your anecdotes to 100-300 words maximum. Please write your memory under “LEAVE A COMMENT” below with your name and email address. We reserve the right to edit for grammar. When finalized, your memory will be published in this section of the website.

Thank you for sharing your memories of Mel


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  • L. B. Cunanan on

    A lasting tribute to our good friend Mel. I will miss this great guy who has helped me a lot
    in greatly improving our directory and supporting us through the years. His friendship was sincere
    and heartfelt. – Leo B. Cunanan,

  • Mel was an inspiration to all of us and he will be missed.

  • My favourite memory of my friend Mel, is the first one. My wife and I first met him over a decade ago while he was minding his friend’s bookstore on West 4th Avenue. There was a small selection of Filipino books that he drew our attention to and we struck up a lengthy conversation on our culture, the arts and our desire to see our heritage shared and celebrated widely here in Vancouver. I ended up buying a book on anting-anting and he gave me a signed copy of his autobiography. We shared a love for Filipino books.

    It was years later when we would meet again and by this time I was becoming more active within the community as he invited a group of young Filipinos to be interviewed and profiled in Living Today magazine. We picked up where we left off and continued to have the most interesting conversations about how we can work together to raise the profile of Filipino Canadians.

    Mel was most passionate about Filipino cinema and we recently worked together to screen Filipino movies and facilitate intelligent conversation about the movie’s artistic, cultural and social merits. Despite battling health issues, it’s testament to his willpower that he was able to forge a great partnership with UBC, Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society, Dahong Pilpino and Tulayan.

    I’ll remember Mel as a strong advocate for the cultivation and promotion of the “emerging generation” of young Filipinos. He used his talents and resources to help broaden the appeal and audience of Filipino culture and success stories. He was a kind and gentle soul that endeavoured to connect like-minded people. We will carry his spirit in our work. My heart feels heavy today. He will be missed and not forgotten.

  • George and Maita Verdolaga on

    We shared with Mel a mutual love for reading, classical music, arthouse films, books and also good food. Maybe those are the reasons why we have such an inexplicable bond with him.

    He encouraged us to always try new experiences. He passed on to us an appreciation for French films even though they sometimes had weird endings.

    He inspired us to live life to the full, and to be thankful for our time here on earth.

    He demonstrated how we could help others in any way we can.

    He was like a father to us who was omnipresent, unfailingly thoughtful and generous to a fault. He was definitely one of the few people who was hard to say no to.

    We will miss his bi-weekly calls to check on us.

    We will miss his lovely hand-written notes.

    We will miss those conversations, even if we have to endure listening to his numerous projects, to which we’ve unknowingly been recruited to help.

    We will miss hanging out with him to feel his youthful energy and his lust for life.

    We will miss Mel, our Vancouver dad. We feel so blessed for having had him in our lives, and grateful for the times and memories we shared and all these new and delightful friends that he’s left us with.


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