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Memories of Letty


Everyone must leave something behind when he dies. A child or a book or a painting, or a house. Or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go to when you die. And when people look at that tree or flower you planted, you’re there.

—Ray Bradbury,  Farenheit 541


Letty J. Masanoc, the author, and Eggie D. Apostol. (Image by Mandy Navasero)

Letty J. Masanoc, the author, and Eggie D. Apostol. (Image by Mandy Navasero)

Then Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc is everywhere. “We lost an ally, a mentor, and a friend.” So said President Benigo S. Aquino III of the “bedrock” of press freedom in the country, my dear friend.

She was also the loving wife of Dr. Carlos Magsanoc who is the godfather in baptism of my youngest son Amado Juan, mother of journalist-cancer activist Kara (Alikpala) and Drs. Niko and Marty. She passed away quite suddenly last Christmas Eve after barely two days in the hospital.

How like Letty to shun any spotlight on her final departure, I thought, when I read the post of another dear friend, Thelma San Juan. She made no dramatic goodbyes to her colleagues in the Inquirer where she worked for more than two decades and was chief executive editor; or to her closest friends in and out of the journalism world; even to her comrade-in-arms against the Marcos dictatorship, her partner in establishing Inquirer, Eugenia Duran Apostol, coincidentally my first editor at the Manila Times. She had been on sick leave but no one thought it very serious.

She was always so thoughtful and selfless. Letty would solicitously arrange gatherings for Eggie’s birthdays, evenings of friendship, wine, songs, and attempts at dancing the boogie.

Always concerned about her close friends, she made sure that we all gathered once a month for Nelly Sindayen of Time, a beloved colleague who died a few years ago.

She was a very private person and she would accept invitations for intimate dinners only on Mondays, her day off, but always with an advanced list of invitees. She loved good, aged wines, witty company, interesting discussions, and XO Heritage Bistro dishes, especially bangus salpicao and laing.

When she was in extreme pain a month ago, what she wanted was a “healing priest” to come and pray over her. She refused any medical intervention, I am told. He came, and a new burst of energy seemed to pour into Letty and made her walk around the room holding the hand of Fr. Fernando Suarez, an awed Mandy Navasero, Inquirer’s hotshot photojournalist recalls. She was with them during the prayers, edified by the energy in the room.

About that recent spiritual encounter, Fr. Suarez is sure Letty passed away very much at peace with the Lord and the world. They had met two years before under not-so-pleasant circumstances, but had since ironed out all misunderstandings and Letty became a staunch supporter of the healing priest.

I remember Letty also showering love on Marge Quimpo-Espino, one of her section editors, when she had a stroke and was comatose for 81 days in India. She supported Marge and husband Chet wholeheartedly. And when Marge miraculously recovered, she agreed to write the foreword for Chet’s diary-book.

Her husband and children and granddaughters Arianna, Niko, Monica, and Misha were all with her in the hospital room. She had refused hospitalization and any form of treatment even when she was in extreme pain and was practically immobilized because of it. She attributed it to a fracture in her spine years before and activated as a result of pulling Carlitos out of bed.

That was Letty, brave beyond pain, fun, witty, principled, but relishing life and family to the fullest. When we were much younger, our husbands were good friends and we bonded—Carlitos and Letty, Sonny and I, Domini and Jun Suarez, Ethel and Jun Timbol, through good times and bad, “bomba” films, and fun nights.

I remember one nightmarish evening, many moons ago, our family dinner was interrupted by fire engines. “They sound pretty close,” Sonny said, and we rushed out to find smoke billowing from Letty’s street. When we rushed over, flames had consumed most of the Magsanoc’s apartment. Carlitos was outside clutching his months-old son Marty. Letty soon came home from her Panorama office in Manila Bulletin, shaken but grateful that the family was safe. Her precious collection of masters’ paintings was gone but that didn’t bother her at all.

Her six-year stint at Panorama magazine of Manila Bulletin, I would like to think, strengthened Letty as a journalist since she had to put up a credible weekly magazine that was the bible of readers, schools, and universities. She turned it into an issue-oriented news-magazine that infuriated the tenant of Malacañang during martial law.

Eggie, according to Mandy, asked during Letty’s cremation “How can Letty be in that urn?” Surely, Letty’s memories cannot be contained in an urn. She is in our hearts, thankfully.