In a world that puts a premium on youth, these transformative leaders prove that with age comes wisdom – wisdom to change their societies and the world for the better. Our Ramon Magsaysay laureates who received Asia’s Premier Prize and Highest Honor after reaching 70 are testaments that age is really about mind over matter – if you don’t mind it, then it doesn’t really matter.
1. YUAN LONGPING
2001 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, China
Age when he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award: 71
Renowned as the esteemed “Father of the Hybrid Rice”, Yuan Longping devoted his career in pioneering scientific agricultural research and developing the necessary genetic materials and technology to address food security in his native China and across the Asian region. As a consequence, China’s rice production rose by 47.5 percent by the 1990s, even as some five million hectares of erstwhile paddy land was shifted to cash crops such as vegetables, fruits, cotton, and rapeseed.
2. JOAQUIN VILLALONGA, S.J.
1959 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, Philippines
Age when he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award: 91
Fr. Villalonga was among the second batch of Ramon Magsaysay Awardees who received Asia’s Premier Prize and Highest Honor at a very young age of 91. A native of Spain, he was assigned to the Philippines in the 1890s and has held high-ranking positions of the Jesuit order in Spain, India and other parts of Asia. In 1947, Fr. Villalonga asked to be assigned back to the Philippines where he cared for the lepers of Culion, serving them until his death.
3. MARCELLINE JAYAKODY, OMI
1983 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, Sri Lanka
Age when he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award: 81
Another man of the cloth, Fr. Jayakody was also author and songwriter who wrote popular books, music and songs that made Sri Lankan society aware of their heritage, and appreciative of their country’s natural beauty. In all, Fr. JAYEKODY has written the lyrics and music for some 1,000 songs. Although severe religious and ethnic divisions were still present, the songs he has given his people to sing have helped bridge these tragic differences.
4. NICK JOAQUIN
1996 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, Philippines
Age when he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award: 78
Nick Joaquin is one of the most respected authors in Philippine history who has influenced and inspired generations of aspiring writers. After winning first prize in an esteemed fiction contest, Joaquin has penned brilliant short stories such as “Guardia de Honor” and “The Summer Solstice”. His master work is arguably the classic play, “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino”, which has since become a staple in the country’s educational system.
5. FEI XIAOTONG
1994 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, China
Age when he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award: 84
Fei Xiaotong was pioneering Chinese researcher and professor of sociology and anthropology noted for his studies in the study of China’s ethnic groups. He was elected to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award for “giving Chinese substance to the modern social sciences and applying them rigorously to the needs of China and its people.”
6. MASANOBU FUKUOKA
1988 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, Japan
Age when he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award: 75
In 1988, at the early age of 75, Masanobu Fukuoka received the Ramon Magsaysay Award. Giving up a promising career in Japan’s Yokohama Customs, he lived a simple life as a farmer for five decades using the “do nothing” method – He does not plow his fields, nor weed them by tillage or herbicides. He does not plant seeds in tidy rows but casts them randomly upon the ground. He uses no machines, no insecticides, and no chemical fertilizers or prepared compost. He was truly organic even before “organic” became a thing.
7. JAMES REUTER, S.J.
1989 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, Philippines
Age when he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award: 73
Many Filipinos are familiar with Fr. James Reuter, the warm and very much beloved priest who broadcasted inspiring shows on national TV. His shows focused on lessons of Christian faith, social responsibility, and personal morality to Philippine audiences and exemplified his crusade for high standards, substance, and ethics in media, much to the delight of millions of his viewers.
8. SEIEI TOYAMA
2003 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, Japan
Age when he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award: 96
Seiei Toyama had the distinction of being the oldest person, at 96, to receive Asia’s Premier Prize and Highest Honor. He was Japan’s leading desert agriculturist who applied his knowledge to China and organized thousands of Japanese volunteers to plant trees, alongside Chinese volunteers, as part of his Project Green Hope. In receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award, he said, “I am now 96 years old, but I am filled with the desire to give my all to make every person in the world a happy person!”
9. GAO YAOJIE
2003 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, China
Age when he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award: 76
Dr. Gao Yaojie, already retired at that time, had a career renaissance in 1996 when she encountered her first AIDS patient in Henan, China. Her greatness of spirit caused her to uncover a hidden epidemic – in Wenlou Village, for example, 65 percent of the villagers were HIV-positive. Her investigations reveal the root cause of the spread of HIV in rural China: tainted blood transfusions. Recognized for her fervent personal crusade to confront the AIDS crisis in China and to address it humanely, she truly deserved to be recognized as one of Asia’s transformative leaders.
10. CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
2016 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, Philippines
Age when she received the Ramon Magsaysay Award: 75
The latest addition to the community of Ramon Magsaysay laureates is the Ombudsman of the Philippines, Conchita Carpio Morales. Known for being as feisty as she is fearless, she continues to battle corruption head on and with her head held high. “When I retired from the Supreme Court five years ago, I was ready to play the role of a doting grandmother. Called upon to help ensure a better future for our children, over the opposition of those who thought that gender and age were not in my favor, I did not shrink from this responsibility,” she shared