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Three extraordinary women expats

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by Florangel Rosario Braid

The film documentary Curiosity, Adventure, Love, on the life of Jessie Coe Lichauco, reminded me of two friends who had passed away – Peggy Corr Manuel, and Ethel Grimm Roberts as well as remembrances of a period in the nation’s history, World War II. Jessie who is now 105 years old, is the widow of lawyer, diplomat, and patriot Marcial Lichauco. Peggy who passed away some six years ago, was the wife of former business executive Oscar Manuel. Ethel was friend neighbor. She passed away a month ago. Their presence had enlivened and enlightened our social life.

The documentary on Jessie, which won a special prize at the World’s Premiere Festival, is a “must see,” especially for those who had survived the horrors of World War II, and lived through the three years of Japanese regime And for every Filipino, needing assurance and hope during these times of despair and anxiety.

A Cuban-born Filipino-American, Jessie’s life has indeed been, as aptly captured in the title, one of curiosity, love, and adventure. She had travelled around the country, involved herself in many aspects of our social and cultural life, touched the lives of people – rich, poor, and coming from various ethnic and social groups. With such amazing sensitivity and awareness, she had shared lessons of a life well lived and conveys these bits of wisdom in reminiscences, in pithy statements such as “You don’t wait for people to make you happy; you make it yourself; there is need for most people to talk, to connect, and to realize that they are not all alone; help people to have respect for themselves. For older people, to realize why they are around – which is that they can still be useful. We must address the problem of the death of conversation in our digital world… I have been sad, but never unhappy….The wheel of life has many spokes, and my wheel is still going and in search of a parking place.”

Among many of her noteworthy philanthropic acts were opening her house during the Battle of Manila to war refugees and turning it into a makeshift hospital. She devoted time and resources to the Settlement Home for orphans as well as other projects on child protection. She also co-founded the Community Chest. When the documentary was produced, the script noted that in addition to her 7 children, she had 17 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren. Among those who narrated stories of her remarkable life were her daughter Sylvia, granddaughter Sunshine de Leon, Prof. Jose, a historian, Carlos Celdran, John Silva, and executives of child protection agencies. In 2012, her humanitarian activities were recognized by the country through a Republic Act granting her citizenship and signed by President  Aquino.

A family friend, Peggy Corr Manuel, was originally from the United Kingdom. She and Oscar met while they were students in the United States. After finishing their courses (Peggy, a nursing degree, and Oscar a master’s from Wharton), they returned to the country where Oscar managed several business ventures, among them, becoming CEO of Oriental. Peggy set up a pre-school, and became publisher of children’s magazines and book author. Among her professional activities in between having eight children, were managing her own pre-school, publishing a children’s magazine, Heads and Tales, Jose and Cardo, Cries from Life’s Roller Coaster, a book of poetry, and several other publications. She also taught English at several private schools in Manila. Her children are now successful professionals in media, education, and the corporate world. My husband Andy, used to write stories and poetry for her several publications, and my sister Lynn, her best friend.

Ethel Grimm Roberts who passed away a month ago at 87, was born in the Philippines of American parents. Her father was one of the earlier American executives who helped establish the infrastructure for the existing sewerage system. She had shared me narratives on the lives of Americans working in the country during the early thirties, but I still have to hear about the unfinished stories from her children, all of them living abroad now. A graduate of Stanford University, she chose to assist her husband Rex in running their business enterprises as well as doing volunteer work as Friend of several social and cultural foundations such as the Ayala Museum. She has four children, all of them now living abroad.

My email, Florangel.braid@gmail.com

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