CONSUELO ALMONTE: The Renaissance Filipina Becomes
The Icon of The Aging Fil-Am
The epitome ´of the Renaissance woman, Consuelo "Connie" Almonte auspiciously chose to major in the Humanities and Social Welfare from the University of the Philippines in the 1960’s. Her academic training was fully utilized in her career, when she started as Trust Officer of Soriano y Cia (managers of San Miguel Beer) 1962-68, until she came to the United States in 1968. While studying at Hunter College for a Masteral degree in Education, she worked in the Permanent Pakistani Mission to the UN, where she remained for the next 43 years of her life. Connie's energy and talent would further find expression in her work as night Manager of Le Steak Restaurant from 1977- 1993. Life as a public speaker, strategic planner, and trainer in her day work at the Pakistani Mission and a night job, opened more creative challenges and excitement that expanded her horizons and offered the best opportunities to fulfill herself. Connie met "almost every significant political figure that had been responsible for the rising (and sometimes falling), the shaping and the molding ---- the very people who made the history of Pakistan," according to Marium Soomro in an article entitled, "Consuelo: A Window of Pakistan."
Connie glowingly recalls, "It was my second home, the best part of my life." In gratitude, the Pakistani Government awarded her the Tamgha-e-Kidmat, the 7th highest honor given to military persons or civilians, and the award was given during her trip to Pakistan with spouse Mark Shaffer, upon the invitation of then Prime Minister Motharma Benazir Bhutto. Upon her retirement in December 2011, the Pakistan League of USA awarded her a lifetime Award of Excellence for her long and loyal service to Pakistan.
Upon her return to the Fil-Am community, Consuelo has re-created herself as president of Philippine American Group for Aging Seniors of America concurrently as the Vice-President, Eastern Region of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association. Under Connie’s leadership, PAGASA was awarded the 2015 TOFA (The Outstanding Filipino Americans) for bringing invisible Filipino seniors to the forefront of the advocacy for benefits, services and continuing education at PAGASA Social Foundation, embracing its Program on Preparing and Enjoying the Golden Years, not only for the aging Filipino-Americans but the community at large.
Upon her retirement as PAGASA’s President in 2015, she was ready to embrace a more personal life. However, she recalled herself back to public service and founded the Philippine Community Center Services for Aging. She continues her legacy as the “Face of the Aging Fil-Am.” She felt that it was her biggest mission and challenge to continue the advocacy for a cause very much needed in the underserved Fil-Am community, and in so doing, she has become an icon in her own right, as acknowledged by former Consul General of New York, Mario de Leon and the current returning Consul General Theresa de Vega, as a continuation of how she was seen before.
Connie is happily married to Mark Shaffer and leading a vibrant New Yorker's life, this time with her roots in the Filipino-American community.
Program Director, The Nursing Office.Com
A life without line dancing not for Consuelo Almonte
By Cristina DC Pastor
Perhaps no Filipino has ever come to be as intimately associated with Pakistani officialdom as Consuelo Almonte.
For 43 years, Connie, a cheerful woman who stands out for her sparkling laughter and striking summer hats, served as a link between foreign journalists and the Pakistani government.
Depressed over the breakup of her marriage, she came to New York in 1968 to pursue her Master’s in Education at Hunter College. She was enrolled for a year when she found work at the Pakistani Mission to the UN as secretary to the Press Counsellor. She retired in 2011 with the title of Assistant to the Press Minister.
Her job was to connect visiting Pakistani presidents and foreign ministers with top network journalists and made sure she got them press interviews. Through her, Pakistani leaders attending the annual UN General Assembly got to sit down with the likes of Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric, and until recently Megan Kelly and Rachel Maddow in primetime news. In those days, very few women worked in the Mission, and some didn’t speak English all that well. Connie spoke the language confidently.
“I found my work exciting. I knew people from ABC, NBC, CNN, the New York Times,” she said in an interview with The FilAm. The Mission, the first and only job she’s ever had in New York, treated her very well, she quickly added.
Connie became a critical but largely unheralded part of a government that carried on a prickly relationship with the U.S. especially in the days following the killing of Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. She made sure Pakistan’s voice echoed in American media.
One particular episode in 1971 tested Connie’s mettle. Pakistani leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was attending a UN Security Council meeting when he delivered a fiery speech criticizing foreign diplomats for their indifference to Pakistan during the war with India on East Pakistan. Angrily, he raged, “My country is bleeding and here people are sitting discussing what will be for breakfast tomorrow!” With that he ripped his speech to pieces and stormed out of the council meeting.
A press conference had to be called. As her boss, the press minister, was undergoing a heart surgery, Connie stepped up and assembled the media on short notice to make sure Bhutto’s statement made it to the evening news. Connie, as always, delivered.
In recognition of her long and dedicated service, the Pakistani government gave her two awards: the Tamgha Kidmat for meritorious service in 1996, which she received in Islamabad with her husband Mark Shaffer as guests of the government; and the medal of appreciation in 2011, which she received from the President of Jammu and Kashmir. In New York, she received the Life Time Award of Excellence from the Pakistani League of America during their Annual Dinner in 2011.
This was not her only job then. With her lively personality, Connie worked as a night manager for 10 years at Le Steak, a French restaurant in midtown Manhattan. This was followed by another restaurant, a barbecue joint, which she also managed for five more years. But time and health were piling on so she decided to focus solely on her work with the Pakistani Mission.
Connie, a proud cancer survivor, may be recently retired but hardly idle.
A sprightly 76, she is currently the head of the Pagasa Social Foundation, Inc. (Pagasasfi), a non-profit for Filipino seniors. She inherited the leadership position when founder Hector Logrono died in September. As Pagasasfi’s current executive vice president, she is trying to familiarize herself with the needs of her sector and getting the community to give recognition and joy to senior citizens as a vulnerable sector of society.
For Connie, old age is a milestone she would like her fellow senior citizens to acknowledge with grace and without isolation and bitterness.
“We have three options,” she said. “Going back to the Philippines and retiring without Medicare health benefits; staying home and being a burden to our children; or ending up in a nursing home.”
She is offering a fourth. Joining Pagasasfi or becoming a volunteer to make a difference. Since she took over from Hector, she officially launched Pagasasfi at the Philippine Center on October 11, 2013. The foundation has been organizing health fairs, cultural activities, workshops, field trips, and bingo games to seniors free of charge. Coming up is a Mother’s Day celebration and a one-dollar flea market to help raise funds.
And as promised, there will be plenty of time to have fun, like “line dancing with a glass of wine in hand.” Because, for Connie, aging is not about giving up but continuing a life with a swing and a spin.
Special Night at the JCI Awards
The wintry evening of Feb. 9, 2019 was one that Maria Consuelo Almont had very much looked forward to, even though the temperature at that time remained feeling like 23°. Her Filipino/Filipino-American friends belonging to JCI New York State (Jaycees) had helped organize a 'Year End Convention' (themed 'Nothing is Impossible, Excelsior! JCI New York State 2018) dinner/awards night at the Fraunces Tavern Restaurant, a popular upscale venue with an illustrious Americana past dating back to 1762, at Lower Manhattan's Bowling Green area -- and they wanted her to honor the event with her presence, especially since she had lent it some measure of support through an endowment fund named after her late husband, Mark Shaffer. The endowment fund dedicated to Mr. Shaffer's life and legacy was launched in October 18 last year -- on the birthdate of Mr. Shaffer, in fact -- in private ceremonies held at the Asia Society Museum, where Ms. Almonte presented a check to representatives of the Nephrology Division of the Lenox Hill Hospital, for it to continue its pursuit of groundbreaking research on kidney-related diseases. Mr. Shaffer was a kidney patient but had died of cardiac arrest.
Ms. Almonte herself has had her ample share of major physical ailments but sometime in the late '90s she was declared a cancer survivor, remaining so for a considerable number of years. But through time her constitution would significantly weaken, requiring her to dutifully surrender herself to more medical procedures on a regular basis. During her late husband's ailing years she was in fact his main caregiver ( he essentially wanted only her to attend to him ; there was no house help to be of assistance in their household, as is the prevalent norm here in the States ). The experience taught her to deftly juggle her roles as wife/caregiver, active supporter of select Filipino/Filipino-American events/causes (especially those that concerned senior citizens' quality-of-life issues) and medical patient who has to religiously keep her appointments and live by prescribed regimens. But Ms. Almonte has lived her life much like a ballerina who's constantly on her toes, if you will : from the time she was somewhat forced by circumstances to move from the Philippines to her adopted country, to her acquiring further education here and eventually settling down, career-wise, in her job at the Pakistani Mission of the U.N. where she served for decades until she opted for retirement, and to a stint in restaurant management. Somewhere along the way she of course met and eventually married Mr. Shaffer, a remarkable man/accomplished educator/ union rights advocate who from Day One consistently saw to her wellbeing especially when he was still enjoying good health. He made sure that even when he's gone his dear wife would continue to live a most comfortable life.
At present, unfortunately, Ms. Almonte is once again not cancer-free. It certainly has not helped that in a span of a few months she has had two minor but nasty accidents -- a fall at her bedside and at a downtown church. That last fall landed her in one more hospital but was later transferred to a rehab facility, where she is currently staying, to allow her affected limbs to heal, among other things. Which brings us to her enthusiastically attending this JCI event. Utilizing a kind of 'Cinderella liberty' privilege that the rehab facility made possible for her she dressed to the nines once her leg casts were temporarily removed ( much to her great relief ) ( someone came to her bedside the day before to paint her nails -- which must've delighted her to high heavens ) and braved the considerably chilly temperature outside, though wearing a chic dark mink coat over a gorgeous glittering gown, accompanied by two female friends who promptly had her board a rented van. I got to the venue a tad late but so did the ladies, I would soon discover. Dinner time had already began. Guests had to line up at the buffet table. It took a while before we could all be seated as the banquet hall was so packed and there was a flurry of JCI officers darting back and forth attending to last-minute matters including finding more seats for late-comers like us. Eventually we all were seated. There was a program organized that ran soon after, practically the whole time we were in the venue. It began with a lengthy but well-informed intro to the organization, it's past, present and future. Followed by a long procession of giving out of awards, citations and the announcing of newly-minted designations -- and in-between, the photo-ops. Ms. Almonte graciously absorbed all that was happening around her while waiting for her turn to be called up front. That took quite a while but once her moment came up, she seized it with characteristic aplomb, relishing the chance to speak a little about her late husband's endowment fund. After which she resumed enjoying the company of friends and acquaintances present that evening. She made the evening's moments matter while it lasted. And it had been a pleasure on my part to capture some of those moments via my humble I-Pad camera. Ms. Almonte, a personable friend, is a remarkable portrait in courage. She passionately embraces the Gift of Life that she remains privileged to enjoy despite certain limitations. She is almost devoid of self-pity, which she replaces with a sense of gratitude, humility and a robust sense of humor -- and most of all, with her characteristic generosity of spirit. At this point in her life's journey, more than anything else, she desires to have a bit more time to fulfill a cherished dream, one that could benefit senior citizens like her who feel that there's still something more that they can contribute in promoting the wellbeing of others -- after having raised their respective families, nurtured careers, gone full-circle with past relationships -- when they find themselves back to focusing on their individual selves, their remaining dreams and aspirations. Prior to the eventual journey of journeys.
NOTE: Reprinted and republished from Christopher Fallarme’s Face Book post February 14, 2019.
Nieva Quezon Burdick: Building a Legacy of Her Own
Carrying an illustrious surname of the first President of the Philippine Commonwealth, Manuel L. Quezon, may be an honor or a burden to descendants. But for Nieva who took on formidable challenges in both her personal and professional lives, it is an honor to carry on the legacy.
Nieva is the youngest daughter, with three older brothers, Arthur, Victor and Augusto, in the family of Eleuterio Quezon of Orion, Bataan, and Urcelina Viloria of Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Her activist brother Augusto was among the fatalities of the resistance movement against martial law in the Philippines, proving that the Quezon family’s deep patriotic values run deep in their descendants.Currently Nieva’s family life is richly blessed as the mother of five grown-up children with nine grandchildren, and this life includes a 30-year marriage with husband, Roy Burdick, who was a New York State senior parole officer.
While her early education started at St. Paul College of Manila, Nieva completed her Bachelor of Arts degree, Math major and English minor, from Columban College, Philippines, and later pursued a 2-year Certificate in Computer Programming from Baruch College of CUNY. Nieva further honed her skills in her professional experience as a successful Foreign Exchange Specialist & Consultant at Morgan Stanley and Manager of Investigation and Claims, Baltimore, MD (May 2008 – Nov 2011). Prior to this, she was at Citibank, NY as Foreign Exchange Specialist, Corporate Accounts (Feb 2005 – 2008) where she was in charge of outgoing claims for liaison accounts of FX and there developed a well-organized compensation collection method, back valuation or use of funds, which required excellent oral and writing skills in English and computer languages.
With an illustrious name and lineage, and growing up as nina bonita of the family, Nieva has used this personal advantage, her professional organizational experience and strong initiative and resourcefulness to give back to her community. She privately donates and supports Balay ni Charie Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Roxas City. Being an alumna of St. Paul College of Manila, she has helped organize St. Paul Alumnae USA and, while Treasurer, created it as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. This act was instrumental in robustly strengthening the alumnae organization's financial stability. In addition, she was also employed with the nonprofit Juvenile Diabetes Foundation Corporate Office, NY.
This invaluable experience with nonprofits is well applied in her strategic planning role as the Chairman of the Board and Training and future Executive Director of the Philippine Community Center Services for Aging (PCCSA) and in her role as current Chief Financial Officer of Four Dragon Global Network, Inc./The Nursing Office.com.