Quite a large crowd of family, friends and admirers of the late Josefina Gaboya Magsaysay turned up one sunny afternoon for the launch of a book simply titled “Jo.” That’s the name by which she was fondly called by a legion of those close and dear as well as a horde of avid readers.
“Mrs. Mag,” as she was also called, wrote a vibrant society column in the Republic News, a Cebu local daily, alternating with her dear colleagues Conching G. Briones and Lily F. Ferreros. She never kept clippings. Jo stopped writing when Martial Law was declared in 1972.
In 1997, Nelia Garcia Neri, executive lifestyle editor of the Cebu daily Sunstar, persuaded Jo to return to writing with a weekly column, “What shall I write?” Jo asked, “with you there, and Chinggay Utzurrum and Mila Espina covering the beat?”
“Whatever,” Nelia answered. And so, “Whatever” it was, the title under which Jo wrote for the next 10 years, up to her untimely death in November 2007. This time there were not just clippings, but a whole archive to cull from when Jo’s daughters thought the best tribute to their mother would be a book.
Myra Magsaysay Sun, Dr. Maureen Magsaysay Santos, and Mia Magsaysay Cuenco put their hearts in it. They contacted Jenara “Cookie” Regis Newman, also with Sunstar, to help make a compilation, edit it, and encode the final draft.
The herculean job took two years. The final volume has 266 thrilling pages, packed with good humor, excellent turn of phrase, and memories that reflect the Cebu lifestyle scene of not just 10 years, but a whole era that covers several decades.
The book was formally presented by the Cebu News Workers Foundation and the Arts Council at the Marcelo B. Fernan Press Center. Many of the 120 invited guests came earlier than the prescribed 4 p.m., and thus caught up with a rehearsal of the program’s highlight.
The invocation was read by Mia Cuenco, while Myra Sun, who emceed, introduced guest of honor Ingrid Sala Santamaria. As eloquent and brilliant as Ingrid’s speech was her rendition of Beethoven’s Spring Sonata.
“Where’s the piano?” a guest asked. Reynaldo Abellana, who accompanied Ingrid on the violin, had brought an electronic keyboard from his music studio, and it sounded like a concert grand!
Jo’s granddaughter Felicia Marie Sun recited a poem (an ode) she had written for her dear Lola. It started thus:
She always had a way with words/ But no words could convey/ The irreplaceable void left on the sad day of her passing.
It concluded with: Heaven is blessed with her exuberance/ We now let her go with angel’s wings.
There were two readings of the book’s contents. Ging Ging Dumdum, erstwhile president of the Cebu-based Women in Literary Arts, chose the poignant “The Joy of Growing Old.” Fraught with meaning and intimations of mortality, it hushed the audience.
Editor Cookie Newman was supposed to do the next reading, “A Whiff of Riches, A Wealth of Love,” but begged off, telling the assemblage that she had a stiff neck and a hoarse voice. She asked Monette Aliño to do the reading in her stead.
Myra pointed out that the day chosen for the launch, April 24, marked the 113th birth anniversary of her grandmother Fidela Read Gaboya. Then she announced a Powerpoint on Jo put together by granddaughter Samantha Zoe Santos, who later confessed it had taken her 30 minutes to prepare the comprehensive show.
The program done, most of everyone rushed to the sales desk to obtain copies of the book. Only 500 have been printed privately, and they were all in a pile that dwindled significantly. There are still some left, obtainable through Myra or the Arts Council office. No surprise if the demand leads to a second printing.
St Theresa’s, UST
A biographical sketch at the start of the book tells us that Jo was born on March 15, 1928. She studied with the Belgian nuns at St. Catherine’s in Carcar (southern Cebu) and at St. Theresa’s College in Cebu City. She graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with the degree of Bachelor in Arts, major in English.
Jo was married to Mauro Magsaysay, a first cousin of President Ramon Magsaysay (there’s a nice article on him in the book). Jo and Mauro had six children: Joaquin Antonio, who met a tragic death; Myra, married to Franco Sun; Dr. Maureen, married to Dr. Albert Santos; Guy Ramon Magsaysay, married to Dr. Joyce Salibad; Mauro Glenn Magsaysay; and Mia, married to lawyer Mariano Jesus Cuenco III.
Completing the family tree are grandchildren and great grandchildren: Myra’s Francesca with Ryan Cang and their little Kyrie Ann, Felicia Marie and Ernest; Maureen’s Samantha; Guy’s Raymund Joaquin with Maggie Buliat and daughter Josefina and son Mauro; and Mia’s Nina, Mika, Marian and Mariano Jesus Cuenco IV.
Grateful acknowledgments were made to those who helped make the book possible, most of whom were present:
Annie Osmeña Aboitiz, Zeny Deen, Tina Ebrada, Marissa Fernan, Ralph Ferreros with son Junjo and daughter Tina, Felisa Chiongbian, Ming Ming Gullas, Marina Hamoy, Sonny and Mildred Kokseng, Amparito Lhuillier, Philip and Tina Lo, Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and his wife, Neli Neri, Ingrid Santamaria, Millie Sembrano, Carlos and Mariquita Yeung.
Glimpsed among family members were Jo’s sister Remy Barrera, Coletta Gaboya, Consuelo Ortega, Bona Joy Gaboya, and Cecilia Santos, Dr. Albert’s mom.
Christina Frasco came with a bottle of French champagne from her mother, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia. The Newspaper Worker’s Foundation was well represented by Purie Oñate, and the Arts Council by its president Petite Garcia, VP Vivina Yrastorza, trustees Teresin Mendezona, Angelina Escaño with son Dr. Clint, and Rose Hennessy.
More luminaries: Elo Fernan, Mem La O, Jaja Rama, Sony Velez, Geñing Solano, society newgals Flor Ynclino and Ching de Veyra, Conchita Taylor, Judge Simeon Dumdum, and many more.