Rommy and Beth: A love story like no other and it bloomed in NYCBy Cristina DC Pastor
How often does it happen that while writing his memoir, an author takes a coincidental detour and writes someone else’s life story?
It happened to broadcast journalist David Hyatt. He was nine chapters into his memoir as a foreign correspondent in Southeast Asia for Voice of America when his book took a different turn. He was to write a chapter on the Philippines with a focus on the legendary diplomat Carlos P. Romulo – Hyatt was one of the last journalists to interview CPR before he died in 1985 — when he decided to do some Internet search and discovered the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation website. Out of curiosity, he inquired about his widow Beth Day Romulo. To his surprise, CPR’s granddaughter Liana replied and put Hyatt in touch with Day Romulo.
“I discovered that Beth Day Romulo was still alive,” recalled Hyatt in a Kapihan forum organized by reporters and members of the Fil-Am Press Club of New York. “I said I’d like to interview her.”
Emails were exchanged. Day Romulo initially turned down Hyatt’s request for an interview. However, she did mention starting a memoir but that she may not have the stamina for the tedious process of writing and editing.
Tenacity and persuasiveness are qualities inherent in journalists of Hyatt’s caliber. He encouraged her to continue her writing and offered to assist “in whatever way.”
“I reached out, encouraged her without any intention at all of getting involved,” he said. “I’m here for you in any way you want me to help. We went back and forth.”
In 2013, the two began a long-distance collaboration on the book “The Writer, the Lover and the Diplomat: Life with Carlos P. Romulo.” Hyatt made a trip to the Philippines to interview Day Romulo. For about a week, he said, “I immersed myself in her life.”
In turn, Day Romulo entrusted all her unpublished memorabilia to Hyatt to include in the “tell-all” book.
One of his biggest challenges as co-author was to “discover” her voice. What he found was a confident, resilient woman, one who wanted to tell her story “without hurting anyone.”
“She is not out to destroy,” said Hyatt when asked by reporters how the Romulos truly felt about the Marcoses or the Aquinos. “This book is not of vengeance or revenge.”
The book, stressed Hyatt, is a good love story. “I love a good story; a good story never gets old.”
It is a New York love story that began in 1958 when writer Beth Day was given an assignment to interview Carlos Pena Romulo for The Reader’s Digest. CPR, at the time, was the Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. He was previously president of the UN’s National Security Council, the first Asian to hold the position. He was an oddity of sorts too, a man of 5’4” but one who stood tall and equal with the world’s greatest leaders.
When they first met in 1958, both were separately married: CPR to Laguna beauty Virginia Llamas and Day Romulo to one Donald Day.
They met again in 1972. By this time, both were widowed. They fell in love under the most intense political circumstances. The U.S. and the Philippines were negotiating the terms of the military bases in Clark and Subic. Marriage between the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs and an American woman would be diplomatically inappropriate and socially unacceptable. The two secretly wed in New York and were discreet for many years until it became opportune to make it known. Filipinos embraced Day Romulo as CPR’s wife and welcomed her warmly.
“It was a metaphorical union of the United States and the Philippines,” said Consul General Mario de Leon Jr. during the book’s launch on October 20.
De Leon called attention to the uncanny analogy in the relationship between the two countries and the couple. “The negotiations over the bases were protracted just like the relationship between CPR and Beth Day Romulo. Unlike the U.S. bases, she came to stay in the Philippines even after he died,” he said.
“He was a remarkable man, she a remarkable woman,” said Hyatt, “and they met at a remarkable time in history.”