One really GV-giving picture we came across this week on the internet is that of lola Virginia Benigno Malay. She’s the 100-year-old grandma who recently had a Zoom reunion with her schoolmates from the UP PGH School of Nursing. The older sister of former Press Secretary and journalist Teodoro Benigno and mother of former Sony Music executive Tato Malay, Lola Virgie tickled the interest of netizens always on the lookout for a little inspiration.
In the photo, Lola Virgie was dressed in a nice floral top, her hair neatly in place. She seemed quite absorbed in the virtual reunion event she was watching on her son’s phablet. A pair of earphones allowed her to better listen to the goings-on during the three-hour program (it ran from 9AM to 12noon).
Her eldest son, Tato, took a snapshot of his mom and posted it on his Facebook account. This was how his nephew, Ethan Cerrado, who happens to be regional manager at Zoom in Manila, saw the post which eventually reached the inbox of Zoom CEO and founder Eric Yuan. Lola Virgie was surprised when a package from Zoom Hong Kong arrived at her place last Friday. It contained a couple of shirts, a notebook, and a mug, all with the Zoom logo on them.
To let Zoom know the package was received, Tato snapped a photo of his mother wearing the shirt and holding the mug, and posted it online. And the Internet loved it.
The UP PGH School of Nursing alumni reunions were always special occasions for Lola Virgie. Before the pandemic, she always made sure never to miss one. The last time she attended the gathering was in 2019—she was already 98 then. “Even at her age, I would take her to the reunion, because she would insist on attending,” says Tato. “Imagine nasa QC na kami umuuwi, nasa Taft Ave. ang UP PGH.” The UP Philippine General Hospital was where the reunions would take place.
The reunions were always well-attended. There was always a lot of singing and dancing, eating and catching up. “Noong 2019, meron akong estudyante, she took my hands and isinayaw nya ako, I was in a wheelchair,” Lola Virgie tells ANCX.
There was no reunion last year because of Covid restrictions. But this year, the organizers made it a point to have one, even if only in the virtual space.
Of all the nurses who attended the Zoom event, Lola Virgie was the oldest alumna. “They had to set up everything para makasama sya, because she was one of the honorees, being the oldest,” he says.
The centenarian says she had only one classmate from the UP PGH School of Nursing who was also able to attend; she is 96 years old. Most of the attendees were from the younger batches, and many of them were Lola Virgie’s students in UP. “Most of my classmates in St. Paul, my high school, and PGH have passed away. About 45 of them already passed away. I usually pray for them, and I keep counting them,” says Lola Virgie, with a hint of sadness in her tone.
Three hours is quite long to be watching something online but Lola Virgie says she thoroughly enjoyed the reunion program. “I’m very glad my students have very high achievements, and they are very rich now because most of them went to the US. They hold important positions in the US,” she says, a smile lighting up her face.
The young Virgie Benigno studied Nursing during the war in the 1940s. At that time, Nursing was the only course available. “Dati kasi, kung hindi ka magne-nurse, hindi ka makakapasok sa iskwelahan,” Tato says.
“We were considered pensionados [back then]. We didn’t pay any tuition. In fact, we were given allowances,” she recalls. “First year, eight pesos a month—good enough for laundry and other necessities. Second year, we got P10. On the third year, we got P12 until we graduated.”
Virgie became a registered nurse and worked at the Baguio General Hospital for a year. She returned to Manila, got married, and bore three children. She eventually pursued her Master’s Degree in Education and became a teacher and professor in several schools and universities.
Born in Alaminos, Pangasinan, Virgie taught in a public school in this city. One of her students in that school was actually Gloria Romero. “Nagkita sila minsan, and Gloria said, ‘I remember you. You were my teacher,’” recalls Tato. “Ang nakakatuwa, my mom also looks like Gloria Romero.”
Teacher Virgie proceeded to teach in various universities—the University of the East-Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center, Inc., Far Eastern University, Philippine School of Business Administration, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, and the UP PGH School of Nursing.
Tato says his mom is not really a techie as some might have presumed, but her mind is still very sharp. “Her memory is perfect. As a matter of fact, lahat ng mga kasalanan ko nare-remember nya,” he says, laughing. She still reads the newspaper from cover to cover. “One time she asked me, ‘Ano itong BTS? I always read that.’ So I tell her that they’re a boy group from Korea,” he says.
Lola Virgie thoroughly enjoyed reading the many comments and messages on her pictures on Tato’s Facebook page. “Ang daming nagme-message and she would read everything,” he says.
There was a time the Benignos always had some get-together or celebration. “When everyone was still alive, mahilig kami sa party, sa tugtugan. We had a family band. Any occasion, big or small, called for a party,” says Tato. “Until nawala na sila. Wala na si Papa ko, who would play the piano. Wala na ang mga uncles ko who would play the guitar.”
Which is perhaps why it was important that Lola Virgie take part in her college reunion. It’s a chance to have some version of the old times, to have singing and dancing again, be among friends and catch up—even if it’s just on Zoom.
Photos from Tato Malay