The course of true love never did run smooth.”
It may seem ironic to use Shakespeare’s famous line from the comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in summing up the love story of husband-and-wife Charlie and Dolly Gorayeb, but every word rings true for the couple.
Married for 50 years now—considered a feat in an age where separation and divorce are almost commonplace—Charlie, a prominent contractor and currently national president of Creba (Chamber of Real Estate & Builders’ Associations, Inc.), and his devoted wife Dolly are in fact proud to share they hurdled many trials in their journey to their golden celebration.
And very clearly, the tough roads have only steeled their relationship as they generously imparted their unique story to The Sunday Times Magazine with hands held and loving glances toward each other throughout the interview.
Indeed, the Gorayab’s tale of romance can rival those of primetime soaps, but more importantly it can and will inspire young couples in striving for forever.
‘Miss Popular’ meets ‘Average Joe’
Both hailing from the humble town of Malvar in Batangas, Dolly and Charlie lived around one another with but a narrow road in between their houses. They were never playmates though, and Charlie reveals why.
“We knew each other as early as elementary but I wouldn’t say we were playmates, because unlike Dolly who grew up with a complete and well-off family, I was an outcast who was left to fend for myself at the age of nine,” the successful businessman unabashedly recalled.
Born to a brood of eight children, Charlie lost his mother when he was only seven years old, and then his father two years later. Completely orphaned, Charlie and his siblings were left to be adopted by different relatives.
He ended up in the care of his eldest sister who, in order to provide for their needs, had to work all the way in another town’s factory, leaving him alone most days in their wooden shanty.
“I was left to fend for myself because I refused to live with other people,” he said with pride.
As such, Charlie took on menial jobs from the age of nine, which could mean anything from fetching water for neighbors to earn loose change to engaging in other resourceful activities.
“I used to say that if I wanted a decent meal for a day, I would pick corn from a nearby farm, scatter the kernels on the road to attract chickens along the highway, and wait for one of them to be run over. If and when that happens, I would go and pick papaya and malunggay leaves from our backyard to cook a decent tinola. That would probably last me for days,” he chuckled.
On the other hand, Charlie’s special tinola was just one of the regular dishes Dolly would have at home. She grew up comfortably with her parents and six siblings, and remembers festive meals on weekends for the family.
The second to the youngest among a brood of seven, she is grateful for the happy memories of her childhood.
Dolly knew of her neighbor Charlie’s diligence—even admiring his strength of character for forging a life as an orphan—but hardly ever remembers talking, much less playing with him way back when.
Come high school, however, the neighbors saw more of each other, and yet Charlie—who confessed to acquiring vices such as drinking and smoking at the time—was too shy to approach Dolly, aware of their very different standing in life.
“Takot ako diyan, mga elite yan eh (I was scared of her; they were of the elite),” Charlie exclaimed.
By elite, Charlie did not only mean Dolly’s social status but her popularity in school as well.
“I was an active student; I was member of the dramatic guild, a columnist for the school magazine… actually I was part of almost every extra circular activity. But I never volunteered; they’d pick me,” she noted shyly.
“She was so popular and well-loved that even the ill-tempered librarian, who was always shooing me away, was smitten by her,” Charlie offered with a hint of pride.
Naturally, Charlie—who was infamous in school for wearing noisy wooden clogs rather than requirement shoes—developed a crush (“just a little bit,” Charlie insisted jokingly) for the campus queen. But as expected, he admired her from afar.
“Dolly was usually dropped off and fetched by a jeepney, which says something about one’s status back in the day, while I used to hitch a ride with any available jeepney. If I left our place a minute late, I’d be left behind and had to walk miles back to my home,” Charlie recalled.
“Years later, he would also recall that back in high school, he only had one set of uniform. So, when it gets wet or he doesn’t get to wash and dry it on time, he had to miss class the next day,” Dolly added.
Sadly, despite his enthusiasm for school, Charlie had to stop studying to go with his sister to Manila to seek better opportunities. Dolly, on the other hand, was able to finish high school, herself moving to Manila for college.
The would-be star-crossed lovers, however, had many years to go in the big city before their paths meet again.
At 17 years old Charlie became a delivery man for a company in Quezon City. Having to lift heavy refrigerators with his pubescent body, the ever-ingenious survivor forced himself to learn driving, knowing he could use the skill for a promotion.
Just as he predicted, he was moved to the legal department three years later as a company driver. But besides driving the staff, he studied how they hunt down delinquent buyers and deal with them. That is, customers who disappear into thin air without fully paying for their purchased products.
His eagerness paid off as he was again promoted from driver to “hunter” for the same department.
But while things were looking up for Charlie, Dolly had to endure a family crisis while in college in Manila. Her father suffered stroke and became bedridden. Despite worrying about her dad back home, the ever-conscientious student completed her degree in Accountancy, and landed a job as a junior accountant for a steel company in Makati.
One day, Charlie received a new assignment to hunt down a company manager whose payments were overdue. Determined to cross off another name on his delinquent list, the young man trooped to a Makati office address only to find his “elite” neighbor and high school crush working there.
“I was so shocked to see her again. She turned out to be very beautiful, very lovely,” Charlie remembered.
“I was also shocked. It had been years since he left Malvar so I asked him what he was doing there,” Dolly shared.
As they chatted casually, they both admit they felt a spark that day. This time, Charlie vowed he would pursue the beautiful Batangueña.
With the help of another townmate working with Dolly, Charlie began courting Dolly, until she allowed him to bring her to and from work every day. And, while her admirer thought he was just a regular guy in her eyes, Dolly saw what her townmate was made of.
“I saw he was really hardworking—how he’d transfer form one job to another just to earn a living because, like in our younger years, he was looking after himself. I knew he was responsible, so I had no qualms to have him around,” Dolly admitted.
As such, despite having several other suitors, Dolly gave Charlie the express pass.
Them against the world
As expected, Dolly’s friends and most especially her family did not approve of Charlie. After all, she was a college graduate, working in the prestigious business district of Makati and he was a high school undergraduate who took on odd jobs just to stay afloat.
“Ayaw na ayaw sa akin ng magulang niya (her parents hated me). I was living alone, I was a smoker, a drinker and I had my barkada,” Charlie recalled. “But I was also proud to be a hard worker.”
Star-crossed lovers indeed, Charlie pursued Dolly all the more and would even accompany her and put up a brave face when she visited her parents in Batangas. And so, no matter how her parents repeatedly warned her she had no future with Charlie, Dolly happily said yes when he proposed marriage, bracing herself for more difficult days ahead.
“It was a gamble. When I was single—before Charlie even came along—I was afraid to get married. Kasi iniisip ko, hindi ko naman kilala itong taong ito (I didn’t know who this person was) and yet I would have to spend the rest of my life with him. So I prayed—I’d always go to Quiapo to pray.
“One time, I walked kneeling from the church door to the altar to ask God to give me a responsible man, whoever he maybe. I was not idealistic—I did not care if he finished school, if he was rich or he came from a complete family. All I needed was the assurance that he would love me, that he would take care of me and that we would spend the rest of our lives together,” Dolly confessed.
She knew her prayers were answered in Charlie, and no matter how scared she was of her parents, they went home to seek their blessing.
“I told them I couldn’t afford a grand wedding for Dolly, which was customary in our province at that time. But in the end, no matter what our townmates were saying about me, her father—a great man—gave us his blessing because he knew Dolly loved me and he loved her so much he wanted her to be happy,” Charlie paid tribute to his father in law.
“Yes, he was a great man and he loved me so much,” Dolly tearfully agreed.
With a budget of P1,000, the couple got married in 1967 in Pasig City. They had a honeymoon in Baguio—a gift from Charlie’s sister who had to lease their small lot in Batangas for P1,200.
Fueled by his love for Dolly and the impending birth of their first child in 1968, Charlie doubled his efforts at work as an agent. He set his pregnant wife up in a small apartment in Pasig whose foundation was almost similar to his shanty in the province.
Charlie’s day at that time would start at 3 a.m., when he fetched clean drinking water for them to make it to work at a chemical company at 7 a.m. He recalled walking the long stretch of Binondo just to meet his sales quota day in and day out.
Dolly, meanwhile, was left to take care of their very humble home since Charlie requested her to stop working and focus on their family. It was certainly a new challenge for the comfortably raised college graduate who knew nothing about housework.
“She didn’t even know then how to cook rice!” Charlie laughed with fondness.
“But I tried my best—naglalaba, nagpaplantsa, nagluluto, namamalengke (I did the laundry, the ironing, the cooking and the marketing). I really learned how to be a housewife,” Dolly quickly defended herself with a smile.
Soon enough, she realized the challenges of marriage did not end with house chores.
“It was really a difficult time during the first few years of our marriage—we were renting a small house, we didn’t even have bed and we were sharing one small electric fan to ward off the heat. When it came to food, we were making do with what we had as well. There were times when we had to share one galunggong for a meal. And then on Sundays, when meals are supposed to be extra special, we’d be lucky to share a piece of pork from our sinigang,” Dolly continued.
“Pero we were happy, very happy. We were a team, and we were helping each other out. I could say that despite what my family and my friends were saying during this difficult time, I had no regrets,” she declared.
Thankfully, Charlie, with his determination to give Dolly and their family a life they deserved was promoted repeatedly at work. Soon enough, he afforded to enroll at Jose Rizal College and attend night classes. It took him a full decade—with the blessing of another child in between—to obtain a college degree including a Master’s in Business Administration from University of Santo Tomas.
So as it should, life got better and better for the Gorayebs one step at a time. From the small apartment in Pasig, Charlie was able to move his family to a bigger place in Muntinlupa, where he eventually bought a lot and built a house of their own.
“It was a humble home but it was ours,” Dolly said. “But just as things got better, tragedy struck and a fire gutted our house and burned everything we worked hard for.”
Rising from the ashes
“One day, when we went home from the hospital to have our youngest treated, we came home to see our house burning. Everything was taken away, we were only left with what we were wearing that day,” Charlie painfully recalled. “Still I told myself, ‘It’s not the end of the world’.”
Rising from the ashes, Charlie did not waste any time rebuilding their lives. He took his family to Sta. Mesa to rent an apartment all over again but with the resolved to build a new house for Dolly and their two children as soon as possible. Hard work, as always, got him through the challenge, and in time, he acquired a lot in Cubao, Quezon City and built a home there.
Today, the lot serves as the headquarters of Charlie’s successful construction company.
“I met someone who became a good friend and my business mentor, so I went into the construction business, and in the 1990s—during the building boom in the Philippines—also founded Concrete Ventures Group, Inc., which offers a pre-cast concrete joist system for supporting roofs and flooring.”
Then, in anticipation of a progressive and prosperous concrete joist business, Charlie earmarked a large tract of land in San Pioquinto, Malvar, Batangas for a manufacturing plant. By 1992, the commercial operations of Concrete Ventures Group, Inc. began with very lean manpower, and in less than 10 years, his company peaked in production and orders to become the Philippine leader in the field.
Success and a supportive wife
Before proclaiming himself semi-retired, Charlie’s success in the construction industry earned him prominent positions such as chairman of Goram Development Corporation, a construction and development corporation; chairman of the board of Dolores Industrial Park Corporation; president of Alta-Agri Corporation; and president of Red Sea Construction & Realty Corporation.
He was also named Honorary Consul General to the Republic of Djibouti in Africa, a post usually given to important players in various industries.
Looking back from a place of success, Charlie believes his humble beginnings equipped him with the right attitude toward work, his associates and employees. He never lost the drive to work hard and had always been hands-on in all his endeavors.
But while it is easy to bask in a rags-to-riches story, Charlie always credits his wife for getting him to where he is today.
“If it wasn’t for Mrs. Gorayeb who was so supportive of me, I don’t think we would ever reach this point in our lives,” he said with love and gratitude.
Secrets to a lasting marriage
Asked for their secret to a lasting marriage, Charlie first offered, “You have to be a team and the husband and wife is the best team!”
Citing an example, Charlie recalled how his friend gave him a break to manage three companies all at the same time, which meant working from 16 to 17 hours a day. He was barely home even on Sundays but Dolly never complained. Instead, she made sure she took care of their family as best she can so that she can avoid adding to Charlie’s worries about matters of the home.
“He has always had my support because I always knew his goals were all for the family,” Dolly noted. “I tried very hard to understand him and the demands of work because I knew then that if I didn’t we wouldn’t get anywhere. And we had no one else to count on but our team.”
In being understanding to one’s husband, Dolly cited such examples as explaining to their children why their father was always busy; How she never pressured him to attend their children’s awarding ceremonies because she knew he had to prioritize work at that time.
“She never complained, even during the few years when we were struggling. She understood. And money never is and never was an issue for her,” Charlie said proudly.
“That’s because despite our ordeal, I saw how he worked hard for the family. I understood him, and I was patient with him. We hardly had huge arguments because we both understood each other, and I think that’s why we lasted this long,” Dolly related.
It also helped that from the very beginning Charlie was determined to keep the vows they made in marriage. He promised himself that they would not end up like other couples who only stayed in the relationship for the sake of their children.
“I knew early on that I wanted us to be married because we want to be together, not only for the sake of our children,” he reiterated.
And with that, there can be no doubt that the 50 years’ worth of trials, triumphs and love they have shared is, in every way possible, truly golden.