Treasured Manila memories in Rotogravure

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Dec 21 2018 09:34 PM

JOHNSON CITY, Texas -- A very rare collection of Manila’s premier weekend magazine, the Sunday Tribune, from 1937 through to early 1941, is now in my custody destined for its permanent home, the Filipinas Heritage Library (FHL) of the Ayala Museum.

For reader guidance and appreciation, here is an undeniable perspective: the collection is relevant and significant because they depict pre-World War II Philippine society and government during the first half of our Commonwealth era. There is nothing today that is more authoritative than Sunday Tribune’s photographs and textual reportage. As weekend reading fare, it was the influential daily Manila Tribune’s magazine section. It belonged to the famed TVT newspaper chain (standing for the Tribune, La Vanguardia and the Taliba), the Philippines’ dominant pre-WW II print media of Don Alejandro Roces, (father of Don Chino). TVT and the Roceses are indispensable components of the history of Philippine journalism.

Mrs. Jane Murrell, donor of the 8-decades old collection of Manila’s Sunday Tribune Magazines, showing the boxes in the trunk of her car before turning them over to my custody, in Johnson City, Texas. Buddy Gomez, ABS-CBN News

A generous and caring gift, indeed, from a gracious lady, Mrs. Jane Murrell, who wished for nothing else but to find “a good home” for the 8-decades old collection, in order to be able to serve its best use. She was in search of “any interest”…..“someone to whom they would mean more than they do to my family.” She thought of a government office, a historical society, a private collector even a current Manila newspaper suggesting the foregoing entities as potential donees/beneficiaries, in her communications with the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC, to whom she first offered to donate the collection, recognizing the “Cultural/Historical significance in the Philippine Republic.” This was in January 2015.

While she received a prompt reply to her letter, it was glaringly evident that the “Minister and Consul” who wrote back did not understand (or even failed to read) Mrs. Murrell’s clear and straight forward intent. What she received was a proforma thank you note “for your interest in learning more about the Philippines,” enclosing a Baedeker bunch of tourist information. Follow-up phone calls were subsequently made with nary an actual contact much less return calls. She wrote back: “Unfortunately, you did not answer my basic question. Is there any interest, whatever, in this collection…?”

Mrs.Murrell did say she was “livid” but nonetheless persisted despite the obvious unconcern and indifference. Finally, in August this year, she heard from the Embassy’s Cultural Affairs Desk. But instead of wanting to own and possess the collection in behalf of the Philippine government, the Embassy suggested contact be made with Filipinas Heritage Library (FHL).

An exchange of communications ensued involving where the collection was located, where these were to be shipped, who bears the cost of shipping, etc. until the Filipinas Heritage Library contacted Mrs. Consuelo McMicking Hall McHugh in the San Francisco Bay Area. (She is the niece of Col. Joseph R.McMicking, Makati’s visionary and builder; sister of Rod McMicking Hall who has donated to the FHL his WWII/Japanese Occupation book collection and memorabilia. Both are Manila-born and very active in the 1945 Liberation of Manila annual memorial observances. Col. and Mrs. McMicking (nee Mercedes Zobel, who in her lifetime was the majority owner of Ayala Corporation) created and funded the original Filipinas Foundation now known as Ayala Museum.
Consuelo (Leeto McHugh) then sent me a note--if I would like to examine and review the magazine collection since the intending benefactor was in Texas. Johnson City is a ranching community of some 2000+ souls, a hundred kilometers north of San Antonio. It is the birthplace of President Lyndon B. Johnson but not named after him!

There is a quaintly engaging provenance to this collection as shared by Mrs. Jane Murrell. All these years, the magazines were stored inside a trunk resting in their garage. The collection actually belonged to and was started by her late mother-in-law, Mrs. Rose Murrell, who during her lifetime would not part with her memories of old Manila, obviously, for very sentimental reasons. Rose was a military housewife in Manila whose husband, US Army Sgt. Billie Murrell, was in the Philippine service of the then receding US colonial presence in the P.I. “Philippine Islands” was our official reference then. (Dateline of The Sunday Tribune was always “Manila P.I.”)

Sgt. Billie Murrell worked in some office in Intramuros, as daughter-in-law Jane remembers from handed down family lore. She does not recall any mention of Ft. William McKinley (now better known as Bonifacio Global City), however. Intramuros, in those years, was where Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Maj. Dwight D. Eisenhower had their offices, as military advisers to an “independence-in-waiting” archipelagic US territory. Presumably, Sgt. Murrell may have been assigned in the Intramuros offices of the US Amy and therefore, they lived either within Intramuros or the nearby Ermita/Malate environs.

The reassignment of Sgt. Murrell back to the US came just a few months before Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941.) And along with the US-bound Murrell household shipment went her apparently cherished collection of Manila’s premier family magazine. All three years and a half worth of ‘weeklies.’ After WWII, the Murrells relocated to San Antonio and there they retired. One can imagine the ‘weeklies’ going wherever the Murrells relocated from Manila prior to San Antonio, Texas.

When Rose, our Manila military housewife was widowed several years back, she relocated to Johnson City to be with her son, Jack and daughter-in-law Jane. And along, again, came the stored trunk that sheltered her cherished magazines. She must have fondly cared for these magazines as family heirloom, mementos of the Murrell years spent in colonial Manila.
Jack and Jane Murrell had also lived in the Philippines for a couple of years. 1973 to 1975. Jack was in the civil service of the US military stationed the Clark Air Base in Pampanga. With them were their two sons, William and Greg, still in their pre-school years.
There is, indeed, a genuine meaning of this collection to the Murrell family. Mrs. Jane Murrell has finally parted with the collection “to someone to whom they would mean more that they do to my family,” as she had made known to the Philippine Embassy. She has now found a “new and more appropriate home.”

President Manuel L. Quezon, mounted on a saddled carabao, cover of The Sunday Tribune, April 24, 1938. Photo taken in Mulanay town of then Tayabas province (now Quezon) by famed Filipino photographer Honesto T. Vitug.

I have yet to delve into and devour the contents of these magazines. I did pick out a couple for a cursory look-see. Already, I am awed and in near euphoria! I have now before me a record of Philippine and Manila life from when I was three to five years old. What bonanza for an incorrigible romantic such as I. And I do know that there is legion out there like me, with whom these will soon be available to share.

Devoting another blog, the intent of which is to share, albeit teasingly, a depiction of the contents becomes an obligation for me. And I will pursue to do just that.

These magazines are a feast for nostalgia aficionados. A vicarious adventure into a past, lived only by the dwindling numbers of octogenarians and perhaps, a waker-upper and memory-jogger for those who have barely retained the pleasant faculty of remembering.

To Mrs. Jane Murrell, we owe you a profound gratitude. A gracious gift from a gracious lady. And in memory of Mrs. Rose Murrell, from her heavenly roost, sipping cocktails, reminiscing Manila as that beautiful sun descends behind the Bay’s horizon. Thank you.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO Y’ALL. Enjoy the holidays in moderation and safety!

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

His e-mail is: [email protected]

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.