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Baby Valencia’s wisdom from the lotus pond

The late painter and columnist battled illness, but found solace in her art
/ 05:12 AM February 04, 2018

Valencia (in white shirt) with St. Theresa’s classmates, including her BFF, the late Letty Magsanoc (second from left)

Our time in this world is limited. We can do good by practicing selflessness. Selfishness has never led anyone to happiness.”

This was a precious nugget of wisdom from the now-defunct column Lotus Pond.  The late painter, sage and  Inquirer columnist Roceli Valencia Eala—Baby Valencia to most—wrote about intuition, relationships, humility and other virtues.

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Her altruism was reflected in how she lived—her involvement in charity, nurturing her children, caring for nature with her gardening and providing spiritual light in the entertainment section.

She idolized her father, Teodoro “Doroy” Valencia, the deacon of Philippine journalists, proponent of Rizal Park and humanitarian. Orphaned in his youth, Doroy had to fend for  himself. When he became successful, he vowed to pamper his daughters with his love.

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“He was her rock, idol and best friend,” said businessman Dennis Eala, the youngest of Valencia’s children.

After Doroy’s death, Valencia established a foundation in her father’s honor to continue his advocacy of helping orphans and providing scholarships for journalists. The foundation also sponsored professorial chairs.

While raising her three children—Rhett, Giselle and Dennis—she occupied herself with guitar playing and photography.  She had a knack for  creating harmoniously eclectic home settings. The talent was picked up by the children, particularly the youngest Eala.

In the mid-’70s, Federico Alcuaz came home from Spain. To return the patronage of Doroy, he gave Valencia private painting lessons.

Valencia developed an expressionistic style, characterized by intense colors, abstractions, enigmatic forms and themes that were open to the viewer’s interpretation. Some subjects were symbolic, such as her signature lotus painting. Like the lotus above the muck, humans could maintain stability amid a negative atmosphere.

Art gallery

She also dabbled in linocut, a printing process using woodcut technique on linoleum, watercolor washes and acrylic painting.

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Valencia  briefly ran an art gallery  in the former Blanco Center (now Picasso hotel in Makati) with sculptor Impy Pilapil and media practitioner Roni Tapia-Merk.

Baby’s self-portrait in her garden in Alfonso, Cavite

In 2000, she suffered from fibromyalgia, extreme muscuoloskeletal pain that affected her moods and mobility.  She spent more time in her rustic farm in Alfonso, Cavite.  The house opened itself to nature, a common theme in her canvases.

Despite the extreme back pain, she continued painting even while lying in bed. Her artworks seemed to stem from her experiences, albeit to assuage her own emotional or physical condition.

“Many of her paintings depicted nature or abstraction. You could feel her energy. She painted about what was coursing through her heart,” Dennis said.

Nine years later, Valencia was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had lumpectomy, radiation and hormone therapy, and refused chemotherapy.

One of her best friends was the late Inquirer editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, a classmate at St. Theresa’s College. Magsanoc invited Valencia to write an inspirational column in Saturday Inquirer. When Magsanoc took a leave of absence due to illness, she often sought Valencia’s advice on natural health care

In January 2017, Valencia moved back to the Makati home, under the watchful eyes of Rhett and Giselle. The cancer had relapsed and was slowly creeping into her system.

A month ago, she started coughing and caught a cold. The cancer was suspected to have penetrated her bones, particularly the rib cage.  The pain required occasional sedation.

In her final moments, her children, close friends and members of the Vaishnava, a tradition of Hinduism, were in her home to give her soul a happy sendoff.

Dennis explained that his mother believed the soul and the body are two separate entities. The soul is an immortal energy that undergoes reincarnation in another body. The body perishes because it is made of the five elements.

Valencia was 78. “She wasn’t afraid of leaving her body,” Dennis recalled. “Nobody cried. There was music and chanting God’s name as she left us. That was how she wanted it.”

Valencia’s body was immediately cremated. The one-day wake included a Catholic Mass and a Vaishnava ritual of kirtan, singing and dancing.

Her last column, which heralded the new year in 2015, dispensed an appropriate gem: “Forgive each day—that is the wise path for people to love and be happy.”

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