The House on Garfield Street

Scribbled at the bottom of this photo is “To Mike From Bobby” in childish handwriting—a dedication from Bobby Romulo (around age 11) to his oldest brother, Mike, who had returned to the Philippines to attend law school in 1947.

The Romulos moved to Washington, DC, arriving in the Spring of 1945. After more than three years’ separation, this was a special time for my grandparents and their boys—a period of healing and getting to know each another anew. Critical years had been lost. My dad, now six years old, no longer recognized his own father. “Who’s he?” he asked his mother, as the story goes. Japan had dropped its first bombs on Manila on his third birthday, after all, and immediately afterward my grandfather joined the ranks of the military, disappearing into a crowd of other uniformed men.

By October 1946 they had settled into what would be their home for the next sixteen years. In sharp contrast to their lives on the run from the Japanese, DC was safe, tranquil, and downright luxurious. An article from The Sunday Times (October 3, 1948) offers a glimpse into what it was like:

The Romulos own one of the loveliest homes in Washington, D.C., which they acquired during the stress of the housing shortage immediately after the war. It was the difficulty of getting a suitable apartment that inspired Virginia Romulo to buy a house. The General was in London at the time of the sale and simply received a three-letter cablegram “House bought love” signed Virginia.

A rare shot of the whole family on their front porch. I’m guessing this was taken in the Spring of 1947.

Lola Virginia transformed the basement of the house into “the Philippine room,” where this family portrait (with Greg and Bobby) was taken. The painting in the background was created by Galo B. Ocampo (1913-1985), who was considered one of Philippines’ most distinguished postwar artists, along with Manansala, Joya, Tabuena, Zobel, and others.

He disclaims any credit for the improvement or the décor of the house, giving all of it to Mrs. Romulo, for her wise selection in buying the furniture and the furnishings and her doggedness and perspicacity in hunting up bargains and critical items at the time were none too plentiful.

She spent many weary days shopping around Washington and Baltimore to furnish the three-story white house on Garfield street, but she has been more than amply repaid for her trouble, for she now reigns over one of the best appointed homes in the U.S. capital today, and she does it in an effortless, charming way, as if she had a corps of servants to help her instead of just one capable Filipino maid, who does the washing and waiting at the table, one Filipino cook (Pedro) who lives in his own house, and one Negro chauffeur who doubles as butler when the Romulos entertain, which is quite often.

The house is unfenced, giving extra spaciousness to the yard. All around it grow zinnias in deep reds, yellows and pink; cosmos and other flowering plants which are easy to grow. The beauty of the Romulo garden is that in spite of its lack of a fence, the beautiful blooms remain on the stem until they dry up and no one, but absolutely no one, ever dares to take away one little flower from the patch. There are no children to ask for a flower for teacher, nor are there covetous hands that reap what others planted with loving concern.

The Romulos acquired 3422 Garfield Street, Washington, DC, during the housing shortage after the war (If you look closely at this photo, a tiny figure on the left of the house looks like CPR in uniform.).

Grammar School and Beyond

Excelsior!” ends Lolo’s profile in his high school yearbook. “Ever upward,” it means in Latin, or, in everyday parlance, “onward and upward.”

The motto certainly befits a man who took his first job at the age of sixteen and didn’t retire until seventy years later, on his 86th birthday; who had multiple careers and conquered each; and who faced his challenges with skill, ingenuity, courage, and humor.

Carlos P. Romulo’s profile in the 1916 yearbook of the Manila High School. He was eighteen and a senior. The Manila High School, which still exists today, was established in 1906.

I’m guessing it was inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem (1841), which was taught as part of the American school curriculum for many years. Lolo learned English from Hattie A. Grove, after all, an American who came over to the Philippines with 539 other teachers in 1901 (the Thomasites) as part of a program by President William McKinley to educate the newly colonized Filipinos.

According to the Philippine Department of Education, Mrs. Grove was assigned to Camiling, Tarlac, from 1901, in charge of Central School. Leo J. Grove, her husband, is listed as a supervising teacher.

“Our teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Grove, were frequent guests in our home,” CPR recalls in I Walked with Heroes. “While Mr. Leo J. Grove seemed relaxed and amiable there, I could not lose my dread of him, because he represented the mathematics I could not master in school.

“But Mrs. Grove was my first English teacher in the Camiling grammar school, and to me she represented the magic world of books. It was due to her skill as a teacher that much of that magic rubbed off on me. I was a shining star in her class, and one of the dullest in her husband’s.

“She was quick to recognize my love of words and helped my interest along.

“She introduced fields of reading I might never have known but for her. Years after I had left school and much I had learned was forgotten I remembered the Groves, and I even remembered the American town from which they came—Ovid, Michigan.

“I thought a great deal about them after I escaped from Bataan and came to America. I wrote a letter to them addressed to Ovid but it was returned, address unknown.

“Then, in this same year 1942, the Pulitzer prize was given me at Columbia University, and in my speech of acceptance I said that the real winner of the prize was my first English teacher, Hattie Grove, who had taught a small Filipino pupil to value the beauty of the English language.

The Romulos moved to Manila in 1914, when Carlos was sixteen years old. They bought and moved into a house in Intramuros at 266 Calle Cabildo. Prior to the move, Carlos attended the Tarlac Provincial High School, the country’s first public school, which was established on September 1, 1902, in Tarlac City, by Thomasite Frank Russell White.

“The speech was publicized rather widely and I hoped it would flush the Groves out of hiding wherever they were, but still no answer came.

“Then, a few years ago, my speaking engagements included one at Miami. Just as I was about to leave for Florida a letter came from Delray Beach in that state. It was Hattie Grove. She wrote that and Mr. Grove had retired and he was in a wheelchair.

“I telephoned ahead to the Miami committee, and as soon as I arrived a car was waiting to take me to Delray. I brought the Groves back to Miami, where that night at the dinner at which I was to speak they were guests of honor.

With Hattie Grove, a Thomasite and Romulo’s first English teacher, in the 1950s.

“We sat at the head of the table and there was a great deal to be said before the speeches began. We had not met since, I believe, 1912, in the Camiling grammar school.

“‘Why did you not get in touch with me?’ I demanded, when I learned they had followed my career and saved every clipping concerning me.

“They explained they had not wanted to bother me. ‘But we are so proud of you and of all you have done,’ they kept saying.

“It was an emotional reunion. When I rose to speak I repeated what I had said the day I had accepted the Pulitzer prize, that Mrs. Grove, not I, was the true winner of the honor. The audience gave her a standing ovation and she was in tears. But she got up on her feet like a champion and made a wonderful little speech.

“She wound up saying, ‘I am eighty-two years old and this is the happiest moment of my life!’”1

1 I Walked with Heroes, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961), pp. 49 – 50.

Aquino Assassination

Opposition leader Benigno Aquino’s assassination in August 1983 ushered in the Philippine People Power Revolution of 1986. His killing, probably by government agents, generated intense public opposition to Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship and made it possible for his widow, Corazon Aquino, to rise to power.

General Romulo died only two months before Aquino became chief executive and Marcos went into exile. In his final days, all too aware of Filipinos’ growing discontent, Romulo worried that the nation—bankrupt and fast deteriorating—was headed for a bloody revolution. This letter, written by Romulo’s third son, Ricardo, discourages him from resigning from public service, as doing so at such a critical juncture would have had negative repercussions on the already battered economy.

RJR letter about the Aquino assasination page 1
RJR letter about the Aquino assasination page 2
At the time Ricardo wrote the letter, many of Romulo’s anti-Marcos friends and associates were urging him to resign. At the same time, the government was pressuring him to defend Marcos. Concerned about the vilification that would certainly be directed at his father if he did in fact resign, and its effect on him given his advanced age (Romulo was eighty-five at the time), Ricardo counseled him, essentially, to try to stay out of the fray.

(The quote at the end of the letter is from a famous homily entitled Second Spring by John Henry Cardinal Newman of England.)

Romulo took his son’s advice and did not resign immediately despite his poor health. He did, however, start to take steps to retire, which culminated in his December resignation letter (below). He also made known his resentment that Aquino’s assassination destroyed all his work in the US promoting Philippine interests, refused to sign a paid New York Times advertisement defending the Marcos government, and he paid his respects at Aquino’s wake.

“Whoever committed the murder made a big mistake,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post, while undergoing dialysis, in December 1983. “Whoever maneuvered that crude way is blameworthy. My only hope is that the guilty party is discovered and properly punished.”

CPR resignation letter page 1

CPR resignation letter page 2