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Incredible longevity for a “Filipina at heart”

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Jessie Lichauco at 98: Feasting by the Pásig, dances with memories

When someone asked the “Birthday Girl” to dance, her fair skin almost blushed and a dreamy look came over her gray-green eyes. She said, “thank you, but I am dancing with my memories.”

Together with a hundred guests of all ages and from all corners of life, Jessie Lichauco celebrated her 98th birthday last Jan. 10.

Talented 7-year-old Hannah sang the Philippine National Anthem in the garden of an ancient home along the Pasig River. Tita Jessie then personally greeted each guest with an energetic smile and spry movements, her ageless body moving in rhythm with the live big-band music provided by The Executives, whose selection of music from days gone by provided backdrop to the ever-flowing conversation.

Each friend or relative was there because this lady had left an unforgettable imprint on their lives.

Larry Henares recounts, “When my wife Cecilia died of a sudden heart attack while we were in Paris, I was so devastated that I could not bear the thought of telling my children about their mother’s death. The first thing I did was call Tita Jessie—I knew she would know the best way to tell them and comfort them at the same time.”

Jessie Lichauco with her granddaughter Sunshine de León (standing). Jessie is the wife of the late diplomat and historian Marcial Lichauco. She can be a good source of oral history because, despite her age, her memory is still sharp!

Curiosity, adventure, love

When Jessie Lichauco, my grandmother, first came to the Philippines in 1933, she was 18 years old. The population of the country was 8 million, and many people still traveled in horse-drawn carriages.

She became the wife, and later the widow, of lawyer-diplomat Marcial P. Lichauco. Her life during the past 76 years has allowed Jessie to witness and interact with people, places and events that make up a large part of Philippine history. She has seen the country at its best and worst. And although she is part Irish-Scottish-Cuban-Spanish on the outside, her heart is unquestionably Filipino.

Why did she embark on that 28-day ship voyage from America to the Philippines? She has always answered, “Curiosity, adventure and love.”

Watching her celebrate with the people she has befriended since her life’s journey began 8 decades ago, there is no doubt she continues to live with those three ideals in mind. Age has never prevented her from engaging every adventurous moment life offers her.

Many people have asked her what the “secret recipe” is to living long and appearing so much younger than she is. The answer is less likely found in following a particular diet or health program (other than fresh buko juice daily, very little meat or chicken, and no coffee, alcohol or smoking) than on certain guidelines for living.

The secret is simply in the way she views the world and lives her life, which allows her to remain so actively involved in it.

“I am at the age of self-preservation,” my grandmother says. “I don’t worry about things over which I have no control.”

She points out that stress of any kind goes through your mind and can affect your body. “You always have a choice—to be a grouchy old person or take life as it comes. I often tell young people that having a sense of humor is very important. Sometimes you think things are insurmountable. There is nothing you can do but accept it and move forward.”

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Related link:
Down the River (WITH ONE’S PAST)

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