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The warrior was a queen
Cornelia ‘Coney’ Mayor Tamayo, 1940-2021.

The warrior was a queen

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - June 25, 2021 - 12:00am

There was no mistaking her presence in any room, even a hospital room. For where she was, there was incandescence.

My late paternal aunt Cornelia “Coney” Mayor Tamayo was unforgettable in that sense — she bathed a room and any gathering with the incandescence of, yes, her looks and her sparklers. But more so with her laughter, her sharp and sometimes naughty wit, and her fierce love. She was a queen, with her poise, her bearing, her elegance. (Her eldest child Charmaine recalls that for parties they hosted in Wisconsin, her mother would only use Baccarat crystal glasses, even if she had to wash by hand all 50 pieces of them, after the party.)

My Auntie Coney died on Independence Day this year — it wasn’t unlike her to pick a national holiday to go, not quietly — but memorably — into the night. One is thus not likely to forget the day she died. She was 81.

A few days before, in a video call, her eldest sister Nellie Mayor Loleng had assured her, “It is okay to go now, Coney.”

And so with her daughter Charmaine holding her hand, and her only son Dr. Alfonso Tamayo Jr., watching over her, she rejoined her Creator, her beloved husband Dr. Alfonso “Pons” Tamayo, her parents (Nazario and Mary Mayor) and brothers Frank (my father, who died in 2010), Buddy (who died in 1966) and Benny (who died as an infant).

Dr. Alfonso Tamayo and wife Coney.

Auntie Coney breathed not just life, but verve into her years.

Charmaine told me that her mother made every breath count, and she mustered as much life as she could into her final ones.

In his eulogy, Orion Tamayo, who was born and raised in the US, but was told by his grandmother to call her “Lola,” recalled:

“Lola has told nearly everyone close to her that when she goes she wants a Viking funeral. Everyone would, of course, laugh at the prospect of being shipped out to sea on a pylon bonfire, and she would laugh her loud infectious laugh as well. Then she’d stare you dead in the eye when the laughter died down and say, ‘I’m serious’!”

“The more I think about it, the more I realize she deserved one,” believes Orion. “A Viking funeral was a warrior’s rite of passage into heaven. And Lola has fought many battles, on different fields, more than most soldiers. As a young girl, she fought bullies under the orange leaves of the fire tree. She fought her way past snakes and mangroves and through swamps when the Japanese invaded (Palawan). She fought her husband on their honeymoon and locked herself in the bathroom. She fought every battle the love of her life faced by his side and when he fell, she fought on her own to keep their legacy together.

“She fought for everyone she ever loved. She fought for her family and heaven forbid, you wouldn’t want to fight any of them lest you wanted to feel the 10-foot-tall wrath of a 5’3”-woman.”

Auntie Coney was tall and beautiful, with big bright eyes that melted many a man’s heart. She had several suitors and one painstakingly wooed and won her, my Uncle Pons Tamayo. After getting married (she was 18), they left for the US, where their three children Charmaine, Candy and Al, were born and raised. My Uncle Pons simply worshipped her, and she adored him even after he passed away 21 years ago.

Orion said that even through adversity and the “the hard transitions of leaving home,” Auntie Coney fulfilled devotedly her duties “as a sister, aunt, mother, godmother, grandmother, great grandmother, as a wife, as a mentor, as a teacher, as a home, as a sanctuary, as a rock, as the light of every room she entered.”

Auntie Coney Tamayo clowning around with her older brother Frank, pretending to get money from his wallet. Also in photo are her daughter Charmaine (right), my mom Sonia and sister Mae.

Her niece Alexis Mayor Hamm, daughter of my Auntie Lorraine and Uncle Gene Hamm, was loved by my Auntie Coney as if she were her granddaughter. Alexis, though her niece, thus called her “Grandma Coney.”

“She used to drive with me up North in her Jaguar with all the windows down and sunroof open with my Metallica blaring,” recalls Alexis. She embraced all my rebellious antics with open arms. When I told her I wanted a tattoo, she said, ‘Only if you get a dragon on your back.’”

And that, I think, was not entirely a joke. Auntie Coney would choose a fiery dragon if she could have a tattoo herself.

“She fought,” says Orion.  “Until she faced her greatest foe, cancer, and death lingered on the cusp of what doctors stated was only three months away. She told me on a call when I was away, ‘I have cancer but I’ll hold on until you get out of there. Stay strong.’ She had cancer and was telling me to be strong, but then she proceeded to laugh in the face of cancer and that three-month expiration date passed that point with Auntie Charmaine, Kuya Tony (Antonio “Tony” Laperal Tamayo of Perpetual Help System) and all her loved ones by her side giving her the support she once gave them.

“She fought tooth and nail. The reason being, by her own words, ‘My family still needs me.’ Gracefully she went as she finally lost her battle. She died fighting with every last breath against a formidable adversary. She died an experienced fighter. She lived and died as a warrior.

“She earned a Viking funeral.”

Fare thee well, Auntie Coney. Go into the sea of forever to meet Uncle Pons as we light bonfires in our hearts to celebrate your life, your laughter, your love.

 

 

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

CONEY TAMAYO
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