Mithi Aquino becomes the Ambassador’s wife

Harry and Mithi's first 'selfie' after being pronounced man and wife.

Harry and Mithi’s first ‘selfie’ after being pronounced man and wife.

By Cristina DC Pastor

“Why me?” Mithi Aquino, 36, would ask then-Ambassador to Manila Harry K. Tomas, 57, every time she is wracked by doubts.

“Why not?” he replied in his usual curt manner characteristic of long-time diplomats.

Three years after the Jolo beauty and the American diplomat from New York met, they got married on March 15 — or eight days after her birthday — at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Manhattan’s East 76th Street. There were no flower girls, no ring bearers and no paired sponsors. Mithi was escorted to the altar by good friend and philanthropist Lin Bildner, whose family is in the Philippine telecommunications industry. In Mithi’s bouquet of beribboned roses, the photos of her parents and two children, who could not attend, were stapled.

“They may not be here with me but know that they are walking down the aisle with me,” she said when interviewed by The FilAm as she was getting ready for her 2:45 p.m. altar date.

Dates are very important to Mithi, and so remembers the milestones in her “fairy tale” romance with Harry, who served in the Philippines from 2010 to 2013 and was the first African American to hold the post.

March 5, 2011 was the day their paths crossed at a luncheon Holland America Line tendered for its VIP clients. Harry was fulfilling his social obligations as a diplomat when he spotted Mithi then working as front desk trainer for Holland’s training unit UPL.

“I remember he arrived late,” she recalled, suppressing laughter. After the speeches and the ceremony, the cruise staff was introduced to the ambassador. The two would meet again months later when Harry was invited to UPL’s training center. Unbeknownst to her, he was already smitten. She would receive an email from him inviting her to dinner, which she declined because she was “nervous.” In August, they agreed to meet for lunch at the H20 Hotel near the embassy.

They got engaged on March 30, 2013 in Bohol. In a restaurant for dinner, she got curious when he ordered champagne because he knew she was on a diet and was avoiding any kind of alcohol. Then he took out the ring from his pocket and asked if she would marry him.

“Of course I said yes,” said Mithi. Then, with coy laughter added, “No, I did not post it on Facebook!”

Harry did not observe the traditional Filipino ‘pamanhikan,’ but when he visited Mithi’s parents, he told her mother how “your daughter has captured my heart.” Her mother teared up as she blessed their budding relationship.

“Napakabait niya, sobra,” said Mithi, speaking like she was introducing Harry to her folks all over again. “He is down-to-earth and very funny.”

Mithi getting her makeup done while being interviewed by The FilAm.

Mithi getting her makeup done while being interviewed by The FilAm.

The minute they became a couple, the entire country couldn’t get enough of Harry and Mithi’s curious love story: a divorced father of one daughter, Casey, 25, and a single mother to Emmanuel Miguel, 17, and Zoe Paulyne, 16, taking another chance at love. Race, age and cultural differences bubble in the background but the couple brush them aside as not nearly as important as the love and trust they have for each other. The only culture gap is her slow response to American humor: “I don’t get it, di ko alam, tatawa na ba ako?”

“They look good together,” said Dubhe Seat Currie, who worked as a nurse at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. Dubhe became a good friend and eventually the maid of honor to Mithi.

The two families, according to Mithi, have grown so fond of one another, their cultures mingling nicely with each other. Harry now calls her older sister “Ate Nelda,” using the Tagalog term of respect. He kisses the hands of Mithi’s parents when they go visit them in their Caloocan residence. He loves to wear the ‘barong’ and proudly explains to Americans how it’s made and by whom. For her part, Mithi has mastered soul food cooking and is not bashful about serving his favorite grits and corn bread. Harry’s mother, Hildonia Thomas, is Mithi’s champion. “I love her,” she said.

Mithi was born and educated in Jolo. Her father Magtanggol, an Army officer, was assigned to the Mindanao province in the 1970s where he met Mithi’s mother Zenaida, a pediatrician. They married quite late and was worried they will not have children. Mithi (Tagalog for “wish,” pronounced ‘meet-hee’) was born first, followed by two other girls Mutya (“young lady”) and Mayumi (“modest”), all of them named using Tagalog words. She was educated in a private, Catholic Siena College. Kidnap threats would force the family to leave the province and transfer to Manila where Mithi earned her Business & Management degree from Manila Central University.

Many times during the interview, Mithi would express how nervous she was at the wedding to be held in a matter of hours. She would hold my hand briefly and say, “I’m so nervous, feel my hand.” Hair & make-up artist Victor Palmos would humor her to calm her nerves, and Mithi’s laughter rippled across the white robe she wore while Victor applied makeup and styled her light brown hair.

Her wedding gown was designed by her friend, Amir Sali, from Jolo. It was a simple floor-length gown in blush whose bodice glowed with beadwork. “I like that I can wear it even after the wedding. I don’t want my wedding gown to just be stored in the box,” she said.

That gown is her “something new.”

“Something old” is the white veil Dubhe wore at her own wedding, and “something borrowed” a pair of diamond teardrop earrings lent by her friend Lin.

The sun smiled down on the couple as they tied the knot in a private ceremony attended by about 70 close friends and relatives. Many of those in attendance were friends of Harry in the Foreign Service and former classmates at the College of the Holy Cross and Columbia.

“The wedding was very nice, solemn,” said Susan Youngblood, a friend of the couple’s, from Texas. “I’ve never seen a couple so deeply in love.”

Shortly after the wedding, they will return to Arizona where Harry will resume his work as the State Department’s diplomat-in-residence for the Southwest and where Mithi begins her life as the ambassador’s wife.

On the day of the wedding, he posted “Suerte ako” (I am lucky) on his Facebook wall. Mithi said she is likewise: “He is so romantic, he says I love you all the time.”

Photos courtesy of Mithi Aquino-Thomas

Photos courtesy of Mithi Aquino-Thomas

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