Vicky Garchitorena, brains and beauty

THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

Vicky Pineda Garchitorena, youngest of six children of Dr. Carlo Jose Pineda and Dr. Carmen Pineda, was born in March 1944 while bombs rained down on Manila as Allied forces moved closer towards the Philippines.

In a book “My Life and Lessons,” Vicky provides us with an intimate look at her private and public life, marked by numerous accomplishments, and an advocacy for serving humanity, while mixed with sadness and pain in her own personal story. Her academic work would always place her among the outstanding members of the class, graduating summa cum laude in physics at Holy Spirit College while also serving as the student council president. Along the way, her good looks attracted a number of suitors and she names them as one would list favorite oldies from yesteryears: Suitor A – Jesse Paredes; Suitor B – Danny Bernabe; Suitor C – Ed Zialcita; Suitor D – Bing Ortigas; Suitor E – Rey Geronimo; Suitor F – Yen Makabenta; plus a number of unnamed gentlemen. From among them, she chose Francis Garchitorena, “the most intelligent and aggressive of them all,” but also a complicated person, emotionally crippled by the circumstances of his birth.

As marriage drew closer, her siblings felt she needed to see the world before settling down and raising a family. So at age 22, she left all by herself for a six-month journey around the world. Just to give you some of idea of the risks that she took at that time – she had no flight or hotel reservations; there were no credit cards then. Her first stop was Hong Kong to buy items for her bridal wardrobe. Then, Tokyo, San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Peru. With “Europe on $5 a Day” as her bible, she crossed over to Europe starting with Denmark, Norway, then England, followed by France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Egypt. Tired, she decided to skip the rest of her itinerary and head for home.

Of her ‘round-the-world trip, she has this advice for the young: “Travel when you can, it is one of the great gifts of today’s technology and the development of budget fares, low-cost accommodations and ease of travel. It is the best way to educate yourself on the cultures of other countries and can open your consciousness to ideas you may not share but can understand.” She also cautions to be aware of predators lurking around.

Francis and Vicky were married on April 15, 1967. Three boys and two girls followed. After several years, things started to fall apart as the problems of his childhood began to impact their relationship. In 2005, he was found to have brain tumors. Francis passed away on Feb. 25, 2005, the 19th anniversary of the EDSA revolt.

If I tried to enumerate all the names of top 100 corporations, government offices, NGOs, foundations and humanitarian organizations where she worked in leadership positions, there would not be enough space in my column. Her work was much appreciated and desired by all. An example – in 1970, she joined SGV as head of the Communications Group. She learned much at SGV but was unhappy with her boss Roberto Ongpin, as she never received an excellent rating from him for her work. After awhile, she informed Ongpin of her desire to leave. He replied, “Do I have to go down on my knees to convince you to stay?” She stayed on, and thereafter always received an excellent rating from him.

Sometime in 2008, on a trip to Washington, D.C. for a conference of The Council on Foundations, she met Winston Arpon who was the head of a foundation raising funds from fellow alumni of the PMA based in the United States, helping young people in their respective communities at home. Prior to EDSA, Arpon was assigned to the Philippine embassy, in the Office of the Defense Attaché, serving as Special Assistant to Ambassador Benjamin Romualdez. In the aftermath of the revolt, his stayed on, working in a number of US corporations. Vicky and Winston hit it off with an exchange of emails that started to adapt a more romantic tone, followed by frequent long distance phone calls. On a trip to Williamsburg, while enjoying a weekend breakfast with friends of Winston, he presented her with a red rose to the tune of “Kaydet Girl” and asked her to marry him. She answered, “yes” – three times!

They were married on Jan. 5, 2010 at the Sanctuario de San Antonio, 20 months after their first meeting. For the wedding, she wore a fuschia gown, her favorite color, and for her march down the aisle, she chose the song “And This is My Beloved.”

This year, they marked their 12th anniversary, although every fifth of each month is celebrated as a “monaversary” since “we are not sure how many years will be given to enjoy each other’s company.”

Last March, Vicky celebrated her 78th birthday, saying “I have had a wonderful life and I thank the Lord for all His blessings on me and my family.”

Personal notes: Winston Arpon, PMA class 1964, is a veteran of anti-secessionist campaigns in Mindanao and Sulu, serving with distinction under Rear Adm. Romulo Espaldon, Southcom commander. These days, under a different commander, he serves with love and loyalty as The Resident Gardener at Victoria’s Garden in Malayarat, Lipa City. Lesson: Opposites do attract; they fall in love and some get married. It is acceptance of differences and compromise that keeps the music playing. We wish them both many more years of good health and happiness.


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