A Woman For The Ages

by Cora Quisumbing-King

When I think of International Women’s Day, my thoughts easily make their way back home to land of my birth and my youth where I knew a woman for many, many years: Lourdes Quisumbing.

Born in a very small town in my home province of Cebu in the Philippines, she grew up under the tutelage of her mother whom she lost at the age of 13. Her guardian was her granduncle, a well-respected parish priest who must have anguished at how best to care for her.

He sent her to a boarding school run by nuns away from the city but in the same province so she could easily visit the parish. What was life for her then without her mother and away from her father and granduncle?

She rose to the occasion, excelled in high school, and moved to the big city of Manila where the same congregation of nuns doted on her and kept many suitors at bay – except for a gentleman who became her husband.

The story of their courtship, their marriage and family life is a long one and perhaps I will share it with you one day. I will say that she could not have become an international woman had she not had a husband who helped her grow with confidence and strength.

The “wind beneath our wings” was what she called him in her autobiography. A mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother, she was a renowned educator and administrator, first in her home province and later in the national arena.

She reaped many local and national awards even before she became the first female Secretary of Education of the Philippines. She was an advocate in her own right.

I was told that she matter-of-factly informed the President she would march with the teachers if their salaries were not raised. Her post as an ambassador to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization gave her the opportunity to become a member of its executive board.

She was the founding president of an organization in my home county focusing on the integration of values education in the curriculum.  The international awards she received in the field of education can fill anyone who knew her with pride.

Many of the details of her career escape me (unless I check her curriculum vitae) since I was not a witness to her life once I made my own home in this country. I do know the influence she has had on others remains even to this day.

While we are each admirable in our own way, I must admit she was “something else.” As my memory fades further still, I will always remember her.

Her light shines forever. After all, she was my mother.

CORA QUISUMBING-KING, PH.D. is co-chair of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. She graduated from Ateneo de Manila University and received her Ph.D. in Social and Organizational Psychology from the University of Chicago under a Fulbright Hays grant. Her mother, Dr. Lourdes R. Quisumbing, passed away in 2017 at the age of 96.

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