‘I want people to remember me whenever they see beautiful flowers’

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star

“My garden is so beautiful,” Sampaguita Studios matriarch Mama Nene Vera Perez, who would have turned 97 today, told this writer in 2006, as she was painting on a canvas propped up on an easel in a lanai overlooking the famed Sampaguita Gardens in San Juan.

Then 89, Mama Nene was part of a therapeutic painting class being conducted by Jeffrey Consumo for grieving mothers, who included her daughter Gina de Venecia. Mama Nene’s favorite subject was flowers, and her first painting, done without a photo to guide her, was of a profusion of bougainvilleas.

“And I often think, I want people to remember me whenever they see beautiful flowers,” Mama Nene, who lost her beloved husband Doc Perez and son Bobby within two years of each other (in 1975 and 1977, respectively), continued, gazing at the sampaguitas, the bougainvilleas and the roses in her garden.


Azucena (“Mama Nene” even to her great grandchildren) Vera Perez died last May 14, after a two-week bout with pneumonia, a few days shy of her 97th birthday. The final night of her wake was held at the pre-World War II Vera Perez home at the Sampaguita Gardens (home to the brightest stars in the ‘50s and ‘60s), which was abloom with flowers. Sampaguita garlands were draped on arches and cornices inside the art deco home, and white roses as big as cabbages mushroomed in decorative pots. The driveway leading to the Vera Perez mansion was lined with wreaths from the high and mighty, as well as from friends, relatives and admirers of the strong and genteel matriarch.

“Mama Nene lived life to the fullest. She saw cherry blossoms in bloom. She saw tulips in their splendor. She dined with paupers and walked with kings. She kept her house and her family intact. She created an atmosphere of love and laughter,” said her grandson Christopher de Venecia.

Indeed, Mama Nene was thought of, remembered and cherished with loving thoughts and beautiful flowers.


In his homily during a Mass he celebrated at the wake, Fr. Larry Faraon said only God alone knows the best time for a person’s journey to heaven.

“He takes some while they’re still very young because He wants to spare them of the suffering that life may bring. He takes some when they’re very old because He wants them to see the fruits of their labor. God alone knows,” Father Larry said, adding, “And Mama Nene has surely seen the fruits of her labor…”


I think the best portrait of Mama Nene is painted by her daughter Gina, who, during her eulogy for her beloved Mama,  showed why the late Nene Vera Perez’s legacy would always linger on, like the scent of a delicate sampaguita…




More than anyone, it was perhaps my mother, who understood me the most because the ties that bound us transcended maternal affection. As some of you may have known, we were also bound by that heart-rending grief of losing a child because like me, who lost my dearest daughter KC in 2004 at 16 years old, my mother had also lost a son — my younger brother Bobby at 26 years old in 1977.

Looking back, I remember a woman with the warmest, softest hands and whose embrace felt so secure when she sat beside me, during the early hours of my daughter’s death. She was just there, not saying anything but her mere presence seemed like a fortress and very comforting.

To this moment, there’s a lump in my throat that won’t go away quite yet, but my heart feels lighter with every memory relived. I remember when I was a child, Mama supported me in all my endeavors —  I loved to bake cakes and cookies and sold them to our movie stars and classmates so I could have extra baon in school because she only gave me 50 centavos a day. Mama paid for all the ingredients I used.

Mama always gave me the best advice — which I’m passing on to my children and grandchildren — that a clean name is the best legacy you can leave with your family — that you can walk with your head up high when you do the right things in life.

In retrospect, I could tell that I owe my confidence to my mother. It was my Mama who said that as a wife, I need not trouble myself with jealousy, as it would only lead to unnecessary heartaches. And using her own experiences as the ideal, I remember her saying, that my father had always been surrounded by the most beautiful movie stars, but not once did she get jealous, because it was her whom my father chose to marry to become the mother of his children. To her, that was the ultimate touchstone of an ever-lasting love. And I’m convinced that she’s quite right.

I also remember, while growing up, our numerous shopping trips and how she would ask me to sit on top of the merchandise that she had bought, so that they wouldn’t slip and get lost. Later in my life, it became clear to me that our shopping trips were actually my first lessons in philanthropy — for all the things she ever bought were never really meant for her but for her friends and the many people who were in need.

Early on, we were also taught by our parents to “walk with kings and dine with paupers.” I was very young when I first heard that counsel from my mother and I wasn’t quite sure about its real meaning.

Growing up, that principle had been in my consciousness and it helped define the person I am today, with great respect for all of humankind — regardless of race, political color, sexual orientation and social or financial standing.

In life, and in dying, my mother has shown me what real women can be made of. That you can be in absolute agony, but still wear a smile for others because you love them. That there is nothing weak about a woman who cries in pain, because it’s how she recovers that really matters.

Rejoice with us even in this time of heartbreak, because my mother is home.

My mother has lived a full life. She has finished the race. And please Mama, embrace my dearest KC for me and tell her that I yearn for the day when all of us will meet again and I can tell her how much I love her. Goodbye Mama, we will all love you forever.

(You may e-mail me at [email protected].)

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