Posts Tagged ‘I Walked with Heroes’

Doña Maria Peña de Romulo

Doña Maria Peña de Romulo

In his lifetime Lolo earned countless honors and wore many hats. He distinguished himself as a soldier, journalist, educator, author, and diplomat—topping each field and moving on to conquer the next. Much has been written and said about his career, but he was first and foremost a devoted son to his mother, Doña Maria Peña de Romulo.

“There was never any doubt in our home as to the real source of family authority,” he wrote in his 1961 autobiography, I Walked with Heroes. “My mother ruled us with a velvet scepter. Small and soft-spoken, she reigned with the discipline of love. She had been a beauty when she was young, and she carried the authority of beauty until she was very old.”

“After MacArthur returned to the Philippines . . . American soldiers liberated Camiling. Frank Hewlitt, interviewing my mother for the United Press, described her as a small woman, widowed, and ‘with the dignity of a Spanish queen.’”

Two and a half years after Liberation, Lolo and his mother reunited at their ancestral home in Camiling, Tarlac, March 7, 1947.

“One of my favorite childhood memories of her is of the day our house caught on fire. Mother calmly called her six children about her, ushered her brood out of the house as sedately as if we were going to church, and stood us in line in the middle of the street. She counted us quickly, ‘One-two-three-four-five-six,’ warned us not to move, went calmly back into the burning house, and came out carrying boxes containing family documents. Putting these down beside us, she made a brisk recount, ‘One-two-three-four-five-six,’ warned us again not to stir, returned into the house, and came back with more valued possessions. She did this again and again until the fire was out, and each time she counted us in line like an army on parade.”1

Born Maria Cabrera Peña on September 2, 1869, in the neighboring province of Pangasinan, she became known as Tia or Lola Titay to younger generations. For young Carlos, however, with her unwavering strength and love, she was undoubtedly one of life’s greatest heroes.

Doña Maria Peña de Romulo (Lola Titay) died less than a year later, on May 24, 1948. Lolo’s eldest son, Carlos, Jr., takes the arm of his grieving father. In the foreground, wearing a black armband, is Lolo’s brother Henry.

1 Carlos P. Romulo, I Walked with Heroes (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961), pp. 16 – 17.

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.

Virginia Llamas

They married on July 1, 1924, in Pagsanjan. He was twenty-six, and she was nineteen.

I never really knew my grandmother Virginia Serapia Vidal Llamas from Pagsanjan; she died before my first birthday. I’m told, however, that she was the quintessential lady—informed, impeccably dressed, and quietly dignified—who in her own words chose to “glow faintly in her husband’s shadow.” Perfectly at ease in Western dress, she preferred to wear the traditional terno, complete with pañuelo. Well-versed in English and Spanish, she preferred to speak Tagalog.

As the story goes, Lolo fell in love with her when he was assigned to be her escort at the Manila Carnival, an annual pre-Easter Mardis Gras with a series of nine balls presided over by the carnival queen. (Lola Virginia, at age sixteen, was voted that year’s queen.) But Lolo already had another love interest, and was caught in a dilemma. How could he act as her prince consort, and, to make matters  even more unbearable, wear a silly costume?

The news reached her that he was reluctant to be her escort (indeed, at first he downright refused to do it), and she let it be known that she was not  pleased. “I was staring at her,” he wrote in his autobiography. “She was so angry and so much prettier than her pictures that I, usually glib of speech, found myself tongue-tied.”1

From I Walked with Heroes: “‘You , an editor!’” my mother said. ‘You, a university graduate, who has been to the United States! Acting as prince consort to a Miss Philippines!’ Then, suddenly suspicious, she demanded, ‘Did she ask for you?’”2 (On the far left is Eugenio Lopez, Sr. Can you identify the others in this photo?)

After two and a half years of courtship, they married on July 1, 1924, in Pagsanjan, and honeymooned in Baguio. They had four sons: Carlos, Jr., (“Mike”) in 1925; Gregorio Vicente (“Greg”) in 1927; Ricardo Jose (“Dick”) in 1933; and Roberto Rey (“Bobby”) in 1938.

Circumstances of war forced them apart seventeen years later, and they had no contact for more than three years. A stoic woman, she never complained and never showed distress—not under the intense conditions of war; not even during her final days in January 1968 while hospitalized for leukemia.

Virginia Llamas, in 1946 or 1947, with her youngest son, Bobby, in front of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Washington, DC.

“Mommy never complained,” said one of her sons to The Daily Mirror. “When she realized the end was near, she looked hard at each of us, one by one, until her eyes rested on Daddy’s face. There was no fear of dying in that look she gave Daddy. Somehow we felt that she was instead trying to convey to him the message that he must be brave . . . that she knew he would suffer losing her but that he must be strong and bear it.”

She died at the age of 62.

1 I Walked with Heroes, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961), p. 167
2 I Walked with Heroes, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961), p. 166