General Romulo’s forty-four-year marriage to Virginia Llamas ended abruptly in January 1968 when she died of leukemia. It had been a happy marriage that produced four sons.
“I glory in the knowledge that I have had the happiest married life,” he wrote, as he began a new romance with American writer Beth Day.
Beth and Rommy (as he was known to his close friends, particularly in the United States) first met in 1958, when she came to see him on assignment for The Reader’s Digest. At the time Beth was married to Donald Day, and the General was Philippine Ambassador to the United States, living in Washington, D.C., with his wife and three youngest boys.
In 1960, New York City, they met briefly again for lunch to discuss another piece Beth was working on—but it wasn’t until October 17, 1972, that their story really began, both having been widowed.
“After having lost you for more than twelve years,” he wrote in January 1973, when Beth came to Manila for a visit, “it was a glorious night at La Côte Basque, when you entered through the revolving doors . . . and in that unforgettable ‘enchanted evening’ I saw in you the golden shaft to give my twilight days the glow that I hoped would give me back the happiness that I thought I would never recover.”
The General had hosted the dinner in honor of Ambassador and Mrs. George Bush. Among the guests were Ambassador Toru Nakagawa of Japan, Mr. and Mrs. Norman Cousins, Philippine Ambassador Narciso Reyes, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Wangeman (of the Waldorf-Astoria).
Present, too, was Mrs. Mariles Romulo, widow of the General’s eldest son, with her son Mike. Sixteen at the time, Mike recalls his grandfather stealing glances of Beth all throughout the dinner. So love-struck was he, says Mike, that when they got back to the Waldorf Towers, “Lolo grabbed me and waltzed me around the living room, pretending I was Beth!”
By mid-February Beth was back in New York City—but not without the promise of marriage. “He proposed to me in the Manila Cathedral,” Beth recalls, “because that’s where his father proposed to his mother.”
They did not announce their engagement publicly, however, since President Marcos strongly opposed the idea of the Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs having a foreign affair.
While Beth continued to write and get her affairs in order in New York, Rommy courted her through letters, gifts, and phone calls. “Listen to the grating sound of my broken record,” he wrote. “I love you today more than yesterday and today less than tomorrow.”
Beth was back by the end of May 1973, this time for the long haul. With a new book contract and a suite at the Manila Hilton, she was prepared to devote herself entirely to him. “I cannot think of a better raison d’être for my own life at this time than to dedicate what talents I possess as a human being to making you happy,” she wrote.
They were married on September 8, 1978, in a private civil ceremony officiated by Chief Justice Fred Ruiz Castro. She wore a pink chiffon dress, and the only ones present were the wife of the Chief Justice and the couple’s close friends Katsy and Chick Parsons, who hosted the afternoon ceremony in their living room. After the US Bases Agreement was signed the following February, a negotiation for which the General had to remain non-partisan (i.e., not married to an American), they got married again—without guests or fanfare—at the residence of the Papal Nuncio.
Cardinal Sin had in fact offered to marry them, but the General had protested, “I don’t want to be married in the house of Sin!”