The Chairman: Dr. Mary Lou Lacson-Arcelo

The appointment began with a father’s call for moral support and was sealed with a personal note written on a small piece of paper, “Mary Lou,” it said, “For as long as I live, I want you to be president of the school.”

The year was 1972. Master Mariner John B. Lacson had already successfully established the Iloilo Maritime Academy 24 years earlier, first as a review center for marine officers, then as a professional school lending his vision to the fulfillment of dreams of thousands of, young men eager for a seafaring degree. Growing labor unrest at the Academy and an escalating hearing problem had forced the Captain to turn over the school’s administration to one of his many children, and his choice was both unexpected and surprising: Mary Lou. Lou, his daughter, the housewife.

Dr. Mary Lou Lacson-Arcelo
Dr. Mary Lou Lacson-Arcelo | Photo Scanned from Ilonggo Initiatives published by Iloilo Business Club (2011)

A short “Ok” was all Dr. Mary Lou Lacson-Arcelo could muster in response as the paper that portended her future changed hands, but her years of leadership have spoken volumes. She has evolved the Maritime University, the first of its kind in the Philippines, with four campuses in Iloilo and Bacolod serving an average of 50,000 students annually – and the list of accolades and accreditations that the institution has garnered is only surpassed by individual achievements received by her graduates all over the world.

For all the recognition, Mary Lou retains a quiet spirituality. “Leadership is a sacred occupation,” she remarks. “We have to recognize that we are but instruments in shaping dreams. The true credit lies with the Divine Architect. We cannot help but be proud of our alumni’s global accomplishments – and we are grateful to have been part of their advancement.” Yet the relationships Mary Lou has fostered with both her staff and students through the years seem to belie her humility, for the gratitude is likewise shared: her office wall is framed with many a gifted photograph of a seafarer’s success – and as one faculty member adjoins, “She always lifted me…I cannot speak of JBLFMU unless I speak of Ma’am Arcelo as a person. I cannot see the dividing line.”

In her 2002 memoir, Less ‘Than Noble Intentions, Mary Lou writes of her father: “Capt. Lacson…gifted the next generation with maritime education as he envisioned it – attainable, honorable, and noble. With the conversion of the Iloilo Maritime Academy into the John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University, the master mariner saw his ship reach a safe and secure harbor.” By taking the wheel, Mary Lou Arcelo raised anchor and seen the Captain’s ship sail once more, reaching farther than perhaps even he could have imagined.

Source: Ilonggo Initiatives published by Iloilo Business Club (2011)

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Sheila is a legal editor and a digital marketing enthusiast. She is a kdrama fan, a dog person and a certified foodie!

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