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Lessons LJM left behind

/ 12:35 AM January 02, 2016

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My heart skipped a beat when my phone rang. Inquirer editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc was calling.

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The paranoid in me immediately asked what I did wrong to warrant a call from the boss.

After a deep breath, I mustered the courage to answer it. LJM’s throaty, husky voice came on line: “Hello Connie, this is Letty. I am so sorry to bother you but this is actually a personal call. I need you to do me a favor.”

I smiled after I found out what she wanted me to do.

She asked me to buy two dozen roses, red and pink, for her daughter, Kara, who was to speak in Cebu for a breast cancer awareness event by ICanServe Foundation.

LJM may be a tough-as-nail journalist but she was also a mother.

Surprise

Her instruction was explicit: I would hand the bouquet of roses to Kara, herself a breast cancer survivor and founder of ICanServe, after her speech. It was meant as a surprise and LJM’s way of expressing her support for her daughter even if work prevented the editor in chief from being physically present in her daughter’s event.

It worked. Kara was wide-eyed and smiling in surprise. I could imagine the joy the roses brought her especially after I told her it was from her mom.

Such gesture of concern was not uncommon for LJM. She had done the same for correspondents in the Visayas.

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Carla Gomez, who is based in Bacolod City, recalled one such gesture when she was injured in an accident while covering the announcement by communist rebels of a ceasefire for Christmas 1999.

While LJM was also not physically present, her gesture of concern was made for her by Edra Benedicto, former Visayas now Southern Luzon bureau chief.

Said Gomez: “When Magsanoc learned that I had lost my eyeglasses in the accident, she told Edra to have funds sent to me to get a new pair of glasses.”

“She (LJM) made me feel part of the Inquirer family by her acts of kindness and concern, even if I am based in Bacolod City.”

Following the onslaught of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in November 2013, LJM hosted dinner at her house in Valle Verde in Pasig City on Aug. 4, 2014, for reporters who risked life and limb covering the world’s strongest storm to hit land, nearly wiping out communities that were on its path.

LJM welcomed Joey Gabieta, who is based in Tacloban City, which is considered to be Yolanda’s ground zero.

Gabieta recalled the encounter: “When I entered her house, I was introduced to her by Niño Jesus Orbeta, (Inquirer) photographer. Right away, she shook my hand and said ‘nice to see you Joey!’”

“When she called my name, my heart skipped. She said those words in a soft, low but authoritative voice.”

“I just said ‘Thank you, ma’am’ and she smiled, telling me to feel at home and have some drinks while the party had yet to start.”

Gabieta said he was awed when he saw LJM, trying to reconcile the fragile image with extraordinary achievements.

As the party progressed, Gabieta said he was finally able to talk with LJM for about five minutes.

Gabieta continued the recollection: “She told me that she was thankful because I still managed to write stories despite the massive tragedy that I just went through.”

“As a parting shot, she told me, while holding my hands, not to hesitate to call her if I had problems or otherwise. Well, I don’t have her number.”

Before the party ended, LJM gave Gabieta a framed photograph of him, reporter DJ Yap, Orbeta and publisher Raul Pangalangan taken during the Super Media Awards given by the SM Foundation in May 2014.

Said Gabieta: “I was looking for a Pentel pen so LJM could sign the frame but unfortunately, I could not find one. I missed the opportunity of getting her autograph.”

‘Little dance’

Aside from those gestures of concern, LJM knew what it meant to recognize good work.

When she sent a letter of commendation for an exclusive interview with Rebecca Canalija, a Filipino nurse recognized as one of the heroes of the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks, I did a “little dance” at the bureau office in Cebu City.

Gomez also recalled a call from LJM about the coverage of the sinking of ML Gretchen 1 near Cadiz City on Feb. 18, 1996, that killed 51 people, many of them children.

Said Gomez: “She called me to say thank you for the heart-wrenching stories I wrote on the tragedy because she felt for the grieving mothers who lost their children at sea.”

“It was typical Magsanoc to appreciate a story that went beyond the bare facts and brought out the human side.”

LJM also knew how to make correspondents feel welcome and special whenever they were at the Inquirer main office.

Iloilo-based reporter Nestor P. Burgos Jr. was a correspondent when he first set foot there.

Said Burgos: “Upon learning that I was a correspondent, she (LJM) immediately asked me if it was my first time in the office. She then introduced me to the other editors and staff and reminded me to let her know if I needed anything in my work.”

LJM also left a lasting impression on Gomez when she first met the editor in chief at the Inquirer’s Makati office for the paper’s anniversary.

Said Gomez: “She (LJM) was busy at work but she took time to talk to us who came from the provinces and made us feel that she was happy to finally meet us in person. She knew how to establish a bond and make one feel one was part of PDI even if one worked far away from the main office.”

I have been in the paper for more than 20 years and I realize I don’t have a single photo with LJM. It is because I thought she would live forever and she would always be here to guide us, mentor us, defend us and nurture us.

But there’s one thing that LJM’s passing won’t be able to take with it—the lesson she imparted. It was simply for us, journalists, to “cover the news with readers in mind.”

“Always put a face in every story and, the most important, never forget to have fun.”

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TAGS: Letty, Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, LJM, Magsanoc, mass, Remembering Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc
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