A tribute to a Grand Dame

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Saturday, March 22, 2014


I ALWAYS have praises for my aunt, Lilia Vargas-Villanueva, for she is a loving wife and mother, a convent-bred lady, classy and a sweet aunt to us, her nieces and nephews.

As a beauty pageant aficionado, I am proud of her because she is a beauty queen.

In 1935, she was crowned Miss Philippines Free Press. She was dressed up by National Artist for Fashion Ramon Valera, who created gowns for the rich and famous of the Philippine society.

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To qualify for the Miss Philippines Free Press, you should come from a prominent family in the Philippines.

In 1938, “Mama Lily,” as I affectionately call her, was crowned Miss University Club.

“Lily,” as she is fondly called by her family and friends, is the eldest daughter of former Congressman Raymundo Alejano Vargas and Esperanza Lucerna Tabujara.

She studied in St. Theresa’s College and St. Scholastica’s College in Manila.

Lilia Vargas married Oscar Gonzaga Villanueva, a businessman and a sugarcane planter from Bacolod City. They had their grand wedding in Ilog in 1942.

The couple is blessed with six children. The eldest is Esperanza whose husband is Emmanuel Lacson; Genray is married to Bella de la Cruz; Oscar (Nonong) is a lay person at the Holy Mother of Perpetual Help Shrine or Redemptorist Church; Lilia (Bebot) is married to Craig Scharlin (the couple own Asian Antiques and Interiors Gallery in New York); Ramon (Monching) is married to Vicky Franco; and the youngest is Dr. Anabel, who is married to Dr. Abe Salacata, a cardiologist based in Michigan, USA.

Lilia Vargas-Villanueva is also a philanthropist, holding a high position in the Philippine National Red Cross and doing volunteer works in Ilog when she was younger.

I remember that she was an active campaigner for President Cory Aquino, her fellow Scholastican, when she ran for president.

I call her “Mama Lily” for I consider her as my second mother. I believe that she “saved” my life by “buying” me with bananas when I was a sickly baby.

You know, there’s a popular belief that a baby who is very sick can be cured if someone close to the family will buy the disease off. Thank you so much, Mama Lily!

As you celebrate your 95th birthday today, March 22, we wish you the best of health and longer life. Happy birthday to the Grand Dame, Lilia Vargas-Villanueva!

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 22, 2014.

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