The Storyteller

Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc

I've memorized her name, along with her title of being Editor in Chief, in Journ school. I kept it in mind again, two months after graduation, just in case the Inquirer's Human Resource Department decided to give me a pop quiz about their staff box.

But after working in the company for months, I couldn't claim to know her.

Sure, I can tell you of some moments I had with her—how I wanted to become invisible during my first (and last) Tuesday with the Page One team, when she wondered out loud who I was. 

I vividly remember her saying, "How come I don't know her, is she new? I should know who she is nonetheless." It was her newsroom, after all.

I could also tell you how relieved I felt whenever she's about to stand up, and on cue, looks at both sides of the table with her head tilted to make the most assuring and approving nod, saying "Thank you, girls" as we finish the second edition of the paper late into the evening. Or whenever she approves of the stories that were chosen for the Second Front Page—her approval always gave you a feeling that you did something incredibly right, no matter how small it is or how insignificant your contribution might be. 

She was also the only one who called me, to my surprise, by the name on my byline when everyone else called me by another (or blondie, for the first two months). She knew each and everyone in that newsroom even if people tended to come and go, and encounters with her were so limited. 

I could also go on all day about her legs—how slender and fragile yet unblemished they seemed. But more importantly, I wondered how those petite legs supported this woman who stood up with  much fierceness, integrity and courage for my generation, and generations to come, to enjoy the freedom that we have today. 

Every day that I got the chance to look at her, I marveled at how prodigious her memory was. How her sharpness, wit and wisdom were exceptionally in tact. How she could sit and work on her desk all these late nights almost everyday, and what was it that still fueled her at this age? I would ask all these questions as I saw her fumbling through papers in the middle of the room.

But others can share even more beautiful memories that they've had with her, and even more beautiful were the ways in which they rekindled these moments with such heartfelt and wondrous passion. I always feel a hint of envy that they shared such times with her and regret that I didn't try to make some of my own.

I couldn't claim to know her that well, but I knew the paper that she had molded for decades to be what it is today.

She changed the notion of what is newsworthy, even what deserves to be on the front page. It was her that pushed narratives to be given a human face, even giving space to the story of no-namers. The main reason why I fell in love with the way Inquirer told their stories.

She also created Young Blood, which gave the youth a platform that empowered their voice, long before social media presented itself. It made young people feel that their woes and thoughts were worth something, and its importance—no matter how cliché some of the shared experiences may be—was worth being read.

I couldn't claim to know her, until I realized that she has passed on her idealism, optimism and revolutionary way of how journalism is to be done to writers that I have long looked up to.

Again and again, and in every chance they would get, they echo her words, actions and ideals, and the inspiration, hope and strength that inevitably comes with it.

From LJM we all learned that there are stories out there, that once found, have the ability to change the course of things, you just have to learn to be persistent and stand your ground.

That every one has a story to tell, but not everyone has the courage to share them.  And maybe you're the only one who could tell the story of these people.

That it is never about the writer. 

And that we should keep writing, no matter what the odds we may be against.

During her birthday, LJM insisted that I take home some of the flowers that decorated her "surprise" celebration's tables, saying they were too pretty to be wasted. But come to think of it, LJM left us with a wonderful garden—with stories she sowed with patience and trust until it presented its fruits, and countless journalists that she helped and watched bloom.

And those, I believe, were the real flowers I took home.

Photo by Jilson Seckler Tiu

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