Ethel Timbol, the formidable former lifestyle editor of Manila Bulletin, died Sept. 6 at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig after a lingering illness. She was 80 years old.
Timbol joined the Manila Bulletin in 1960 after graduating from the College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York on a scholarship from the Knights of Columbus. She started out covering the police beat for the paper then went on to handle other topics, ranging from education to trade issues. The disparate topics helped hone her writing skills and she was later appointed editor of the lifestyle section, Life & Leisure.
She would hold on to that position of power until her retirement in December 2007, after a total of 47 years of service. Timbol was one of the most feared and respected editors but she could also be a sweetheart to those she favored.
Ivy Lisa Mendoza, a colleague of Timbol at Manila Bulletin who used to be her assistant said, “If she liked you, she really liked you.”
Despite what she described as their “love-hate relationship,” Mendoza credited her former boss for teaching her well in a birthday note she sent last year.
“Everything I know about newspaper work, I learned from you,” Mendoza said. “You taught me to be meticulous in editing down to the last comma, to write proper captions, to measure pictures, to evaluate stories, to keep an eye for stories and good angles, to ask the right questions in interviews, to write, to discern people for what they really were, even to fight for what I believe was right.”
Lifestyle contributing editor Alya Honasan remembers a memorable trip with Timbol that showed how “spontaneous and unfiltered” she could be.
“We were in Rome on a junket, and our host managed to get us a front row seat in St. Peter’s Square,” Honasan said. “Pope John Paul II was there, and was just turning around to leave when Ethel called out, ‘Holy Father, we’re from the Philippines!’ Naturally, the Pope paused, turned and walked back toward us. He shook her hand, and Ethel was in tears for a while after that.”
Timbol was also known for being straightforward and quite catty. This writer recalls one event attended by a preponderance of cub reporters. Timbol quietly asked, “Who are all these upstarts?”
Honasan shared another anecdote: “First time I met her as a young, freelance writer, I sat beside her during a dinner. I asked her, ‘What do you do?’ She blew smoke in the air and said, without looking at me, ‘I edit the Lifestyle section of Bulletin.’ Simple lang. When we would laugh about it years later, she would say, ‘Pasalamat ka I didn’t blow the smoke in your face!’”
Gwen Jacinto was a young and new PR officer at the Manila Hotel when she summoned up the nerve to point out a wrongly captioned photo to Timbol. “I was hesitant to call and say it needed an erratum as some of my colleagues warned me she might not take it constructively,” Jacinto said.
“I took the courage to call her anyway and she said, ‘Thank you for pointing it out, hija, and for not being afraid to tell me. Everyone thinks I’m a monster, so thank you. I will not forget this.’ From then on, she gave me full support all the way.”
Veteran PR practitioner Rosary Ysmael said she would always remember Timbol as a kind and upbeat person. “She was frank and never minced her words. Our out-of-town trips became times of bonding. Through the years, she became a close friend,” Ysmael said.
Fellow PR practitioner Mila Magsaysay Valenzuela described Timbol as “a good journalist and friend. She was a warrior in fighting her sickness for decades,” she said.
Timbol had diabetes and had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. She is survived by her children Bebeth, Alex and Dabi. INQ