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The Dignified Life of Celia Diaz Laurel, As Told by the People Who Loved Her Most

From dreams and memories, recollections and conversations, we get a glimpse of the elegant life of Celia Diaz Laurel.
IMAGE COURTESY OF THE LAUREL FAMILY
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Celia Diaz Laurel, the acclaimed theater actress, painter, author, lover of all things beautiful, and wife of vice president Doy Laurel, died at 93 years old on July 12. She accomplished much in her glorious and outsized life, but perhaps her greatest legacy is found in her family, her eight children and 19 grandchildren, all of whom remember, above all, her unparalleled kindness, dignity, and warmth.

In dreams and memories, recollections and private conversations, grandsons, granddaughters, grandnephews, and grandnieces remember fondly their Lola Celia. For them, she was more than the actress who dazzled audiences or the hostess who entertained world leaders. She was the grandmother who held their hands as they grew up in the world. 


A portrait of Celia Diaz Laurel by son Cocoy Laurel

Photo by COURTESY OF THE LAUREL FAMILY.

Ana Cristina Laurel Delgado, granddaughter

Lola Celia wore so many hats—the public figure, the actress, the matriarch. To me, she was my Lola. I will always remember when she teasingly reminded me that I made her and Papa Doy grandparents at 45 years old. It never really dawned on me what that meant until I was in my early 40s and became a mother of a first-grader. I wondered how she must have felt about having a grandchild when she was so young. 

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As a child, I was always in awe of Lola, whether it was watching her transform into different characters on stage or creating a masterpiece on canvas. I loved listening to Lola regale us with stories of her youth, never sparing any details and always keeping us wanting for more. 

I never dreamed that one day I would have the privilege of having Lola as my captured audience while I entertained her with my own kuwentos. Lola would always give her undivided attention while I told her about my day-to-day life, which I have to admit, was a sharp contrast from what she experienced during World War II. 

Despite Lola's hectic schedule, she always made time for me, and that meant the world to me. She would reassure me during moments of uncertainty that “everything will work out,” and would encourage me to chase my dreams. I will miss Lola immensely, and will always remember her dedication and loyalty to Papa Doy, and her unconditional love for us, her family.

Santiago L Castillo, grandson

I will always remember Lola Celia not just for her talent in the arts, but also for her stories during the pivotal times in our country's history, such as the Second World War, martial law, and EDSA Revolution. 

Like her esteemed husband and dear Lolo Doy, Lola Celia stood for what was just and fair, and that reflected in the even and dignified way she carried herself. She will always be remembered not only for adding color to our lives and in this world, but also for a dignity of character uncommon these days.

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Celia singing on her 90th birthday celebration at Manila House in May 2018

Photo by COURTESY OF THE LAUREL FAMILY.

Joaqui S. Laurel, grandson

On my last visit home on Christmas 2019, we were all saying our usual goodbyes to lola before leaving her apartment. By chance, I so happened to be the last to say goodbye that day. The rest of the group was out the door so I hurriedly gave her a kiss on the cheek and said goodbye. She held my hand tightly and asked me how I was, calm and caring as always. I distinctly remember she held my hand for a good five minutes and wouldn’t let go. She just wanted to see that I was okay. 

For someone who spent her whole life around leaders of the world, icons, and stars, in that moment, it felt like I was the most important person in the world. The thing is, that's how lola is to everyone.

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Rosie Delgado Van De Perre, granddaughter

I woke up in tears from my sleep today. I dreamed of Lola and she visited me to say goodbye. She looked very beautiful and happy and young 

I told her I want to be just like her, a loving and kind mother to Océane and hopefully as unforgettable a lola as she was. She smiled and hugged me in her soft hug and she said, “You will be my dear, you will be.” Then, I said, “I love you, Lola,” and she said, “I love you, too, and thank you for your love.” She smiled very warmly at me and walked away. 

Faith Foster Laurel, granddaughter

Photo by COURTESY OF THE LAUREL FAMILY.

My grandmother was an amazingly gifted woman, talented, kindhearted, and warm. I grew up in the U.S. but moved to the Philippines at the age of 12, and I was very shy. I had a hard time speaking to her at first even though I wanted to get close to her and get to know her well. But for a few nights a week, my dad would bring me up to her room during the late hours of the night while she would watch television upstairs with my uncle. And at the end of the night, she would always give me a piece of Almond Roca. 

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Shy as I was, I looked forward to and loved that I was able to spend those quiet moments with her. During the day she was always made up and watching television with her night was one of the only times I got to see her relaxed and bare-faced and yet still be beautiful even when she wasn’t wearing a lick of makeup. 

She was the most wonderful, caring grandmother anyone could ever ask for. And I’ll forever miss these little moments with her, but I’m happy she’s finally dancing with my grandfather once again.

Jose Laurel Delgado, grandson

Photo by COURTESY OF THE LAUREL FAMILY.

Lola Celia was the epitome of a Renaissance woman. She was known for her pioneering contributions to Philippine theater and fine arts, which were recently reflected in her two published books. However, I'm very grateful to have enjoyed my time with her as my grandmother. 

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Lola was the sweetest lady. Her soft affectionate voice, her charming smile always brought a very positive vibe whenever we were around. The flawless, smooth, soft skin on her arms provided much enjoyment for us grandchildren as we would make them himas

She loved good rich food and we'd have to get our appetites ready each time she hosted a dinner or party. She inspired me to follow my passions, to develop the artistic side of life, to be true to who I am today, and she kept the never-ending memory of Papa Doy in my heart. 

If ever the ancient Greek poets called upon the Muses for inspiration, Lola Celia would be my muse in the pursuit of anything musical or artistic. I will love her forever and always.

Javier Laurel Delgado, grandson

Photo by COURTESY OF THE LAUREL FAMILY.

My fondest memory of my Lola Celia, who I affectionately called Lolski, was during my college years in Houston, Texas. She and Papa Doy would visit us regularly and also attend to their medical needs at the time. I remember being my Lola's driver during one of her many knee operations and was constantly amazed at her high tolerance for pain and discomfort. Underneath her beauty and grace was the toughest woman I have ever known. Her calm demeanor under extreme circumstances inspires me to deal with adversity still to this day.

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Nikki Sanz Laurel, granddaughter

I will forever be grateful to my Lola or Lolly. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for her. In my early teens, I would take summer jobs to be her assistant. I was greatly inspired by her dedication to art and the knowledge she shared. She was always patient with me. 

I then became her scholar for college and even for my after-graduate studies. She never stopped supporting me throughout my life, and never stopped checking how I was doing all the time. She would always ask me, “Is there anything else you would like to pursue? How can I help?” I will never forget all the love and generosity, and will live to do the same for others, too.


Mothers Day May 2020 with Celia and family

Photo by COURTESY OF THE LAUREL FAMILY.

Nicole Laurel Asensio, granddaughter

Photo by COURTESY OF THE LAUREL FAMILY.
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Our brightest star now shines in heaven. Thank you, Lord, for blessing us with our beloved Lola Celia Diaz Laurel. Life with you, Lola, is beautiful simply because you are in it. Your smile, laughter, beauty, kindness, wisdom, love for the arts, love for life, grace, and warm embrace are like no other. 

Thank you for teaching us, nurturing us, and loving us. You are the most giving and forgiving person I have ever been blessed to know. Our love for the arts is all because of you. Thank you for opening our hearts to the beautiful things God has created. Thank you for teaching us how to act, sing, create. 

I will always remember the glimmering costumes and dried roses, the sound of your deep soothing voice as you would sing, your impeccable strokes as you would paint your beautiful face, the taste of your queso de bola dip, duck recipe, cakes, and strawberry mousse, the way you made our home feel just like home simply because your love filled every space, the way you were an amazing listener but when you spoke, we all were changed… softened and cradled by your encouragement.

You are our inspiration, a true woman of our Lord. And though it is still like a dream, I am grateful that you are now in his loving arms together with Papa Doy, Tita Stella, Tito Tip, and your friends who are in paradise. Thank you, Lord, for allowing us time with our Lola, for allowing us to see her the last few days, and make the most of her soft embrace. Your heart forever lives on in all of us who love you very much. See you again one day.

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Sarah Laurel Sanz, granddaughter

Photo by COURTESY OF THE LAUREL FAMILY.

Lola Celia is the biggest blessing that God has ever given me and the whole family. She made the world so beautiful by being in it. There were a lot of memories to recall with her but one thing I know for sure is Lola always filled my life with so much love, meaning, laughter, and happiness. Her smile that just brightened up the room instantly, her warm and tight hug that instantly make you feel okay, her generous heart that has changed so many lives for the better. 

I will never forget all the fun memories she shared, like dancing the tango so beautifully every time I’d come to see her. Lola never failed to amaze me in everything she did in life, including the multiple roles she played as an actress. My most favorite character or role of her that she played was being the best Lola she always was to her grandchildren. 

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Lola made my life like a canvas because she painted it in so many bright and beautiful colors. Thank you, Lola, for being an inspiration and a reminder that God loves us all since he blessed our lives with a beautiful grandmother like you. We love you so much!



Doy and Celia Laurel and their grandchildren in the Laurel's Shaw Boulevard residence

Photo by COURTESY OF THE LAUREL FAMILY.

Monica Delgado Muis, granddaughter

Growing up, I had always loved the smell of linseed oil and oil paint every time I entered Lola’s painting studio. I would linger around every time I caught her working on a painting and would study the strokes she would make and the colors she would mix. And I always marveled at how stylish and glamorous she looked in the studio, a contrast to the messy, disheveled artist I pictured all working artists to be. Lola just wasn’t any working artist—she was extraordinary.  

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Lola Celia was a big inspiration in my decision to pursue fine arts and while I attended UP Fine Arts, I often wondered what she was like and where she would hang out when she was on campus during her UP Fine Arts days, and it always comforted me knowing she had attended the same college years before.  

It meant the world to me that Lola attended all my Manila art openings and it would excite me to show her my work and explain my process. Even if she didn’t understand it sometimes, she would always tell me how proud she was. She continues to inspire me to be that glam, extraordinary artist and person that she was.

Mikey Laurel Sanz, grandson

I will always be grateful to call Lola Celia my grandmother. She is truly an inspiration in my life and made the world so beautiful by being in it. I am so happy that she is reunited with Papa Doy, my Mom Stella, Tito Tip, and many of her dear ones who love and missed her so much for sure! Heaven gained another star and angel. I will always remember all the love and support you gave our family and will remain forever grateful and blessed to be called your grandson. I love you, Lola, and I will miss you very much.

Juan Paolo Laurel Castillo, grandson

Photo by COURTESY OF THE LAUREL FAMILY.
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I recall a discussion with Lola one time about our costumes for a yearly family gathering. I wanted something easy to put together to match the theme. But she said, “I don't want it easy... I want it beautiful, glamorous.” From that discussion, I understood the importance of beauty to her. It wasn't just the ability to put things together "for the sake of" like a costume, or stage set, or even a dwelling. It had to be beautiful. That's why everything seemed to fall perfectly into place when she put her hands to it.

Jade Velayo Lorayes, granddaughter

Photo by COURTESY OF THE LAUREL FAMILY.

Lola Celia made everything beautiful. She always took the extra effort to make their home, her costumes, her sets, her paintings extra! My mom taught me that life is what you make it. That’s so Lola! Her kids have such an amazing eye for beauty and taste and are so talented in painting and crafting because of her. 

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She was a wonderful wife to Papa Doy! In their presence, it was impossible to miss the love and admiration they had for each other. They were a team, always encouraging and pushing each other to be excellent in their endeavors. They reached the heights they did because of each other. You just knew she made home so beautiful because she wanted him and her family to be surrounded by beauty.

Lola to me was Lols—beautiful, talented, and a lady in every way, who was always so supportive and loving to me. She had the smoothest and softest skin. I love to make kalam her arms, hold her hands, and put my cheek against hers. 

My favorite advice from her I got before getting married: “Marriage is not 50-50. It’s two people giving 100 percent and not expecting anything in return.” You just give your all. Later on, when I would see her, she would always tell me you are a good mom and wife. That was lovely to hear from her. I’m so blessed she was my Lola. I will miss her always. I can’t wait to hug her again one day.

Maria Bianca Sanz, granddaughter

When I was a little girl, I used to live with my Lola Celia and Papa Doy. In one of my earliest memories, I remember calling out to my mama (Stella) frantically from the staircase after waking from my nap alone. Being the mama’s girl that I was, I would cry and call out for her, but the one who would come to my rescue was my Lola Celia. In an instant, I would stop crying as she held me in her arms. At that young age, I considered her to be my hero.

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A few years back, my siblings and I lost our mother (Stella) to cancer. In her place, we considered our Lola Celia to be our mother. I guess this holds most true for our youngest sister Sarah, as she was not able to spend as much time with our mama. Lola Celia played a big part in our lives. She nurtured us and gave us so much love, joy, and laughter. She filled our lives with so much music and color. Because we had her in our lives, we were able to grow and realize our dreams. Thank you for helping me attain my dream of becoming a doctor. It is through her that I am able to pay it forward and help other people. 

Lola Celia, we will never be able to thank you enough for being there for us. Thank you for being our hero. We will forever hold your beautiful memory in our hearts. We love you very much.

Martin Sanz Laurel, grandson

It's difficult to single out just one big moment with lola because they are often overshadowed by the simple, everyday interactions I've had with her. Uniquely unforgettable things like the sound of her low-pitched laugh over dinner, or hearing how she speaks so gracefully all the time but sounds extra sweet when she suddenly turns and says something to you in bisaya. What I will miss most though is the brief moment that happens each time you come up to meet her. Her face lights up and she flashes you the biggest, warmest, most genuine smile she can muster. It's a sight that can make you feel like you're the most special person in the room. It's a selfless look of love and a priceless gift she gave each one of us. I'm sure everyone else in the family will surely miss that, too.

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Javier Antonio Gemperle Laurel, grandnephew

Lola Celia was one of those people who instantly lit up the room with her presence. A respected figure in the arts industry, she would never fail to give praise to your performance or artwork. Some of her works still hang in some of the offices in LPU. We will all surely miss her but we are happy that she is now finally back in the arms of her love, Lolo Doy, for eternity.

Franco Laurel, grandnephew

One of the main reasons why I fell in love with theatre was because of my grandaunt Celia Diaz Laurel who I fondly call Lola Celia. The first time I saw her on stage was in The King & I at the CCP where she played Lady Thiang in the late ’70s. The word to describe how I felt back then was spellbound. It opened my eyes to a world I wanted to be a part of. Since then I asked my Mom to take me to watch more musicals by Repertory Philippines.  

I will never forget Lola Celia gliding down the staircase as Baroness Elsa von Schraeder in The Sound of Music in the early ’80s at the Meralco Theater. Her presence was magnetic exuding so much class. 

Another memorable moment for me was when she played Stephanie Dickinson in Cactus Flower at the Insular Life Auditorium in Makati in the early ’80s. I was hanging out backstage and wanted to watch the show from the wings. The show was about to start but Lola Celia was nowhere in sight. Everyone was panicking wondering where she was and who would play her part in the event she does not show up. In the nick of time, Lola Celia arrived and quickly changed into her costume by the wings and as the curtain rose, entered the scene in character, and gave a marvelous performance. 

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Back then there were no cellphones to update anyone about her location, apparently she was caught in traffic after coming from a political rally to support her husband Papa Doy. I marveled at the way she handled her duty as a wife, mother, grandmother, and artist with grace.

Since my Mom was working for Papa Doy in the early ’80s, I would tag along with her to “Shaw,” the home of Papa Doy and Lola Celia at Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong. I was a young boy totally enamored by the world of theatre that I wanted to be with theatre artists and learn from them. I would see most of them hang out in Shaw back in the day. 

Music filled the home led by Tito Cocoy’s and Tita Iwi’s amazing voices. I will never forget the times I would go up to the master’s bedroom where Lola Celia would create the costumes for some of the biggest musicals of Repertory Philippines, one, in particular, was Camelot. The whole dressing area and bathroom were filled with fabric, beads, sequins, feathers, and all kinds of props and costumes that were intricately done. The level of excellence in her craftsmanship is unparalleled to this day.

Benedict Carandang, grandnephew

I started to become particularly close to Lola Celia in the latter part of her life. My grandmother is the first cousin of Lolo Doy Laurel. She and Lola Celia worked on the Laurel Family Tree, which they both published on the centennial birth anniversary of President Jose P. Laurel in 1991. This genealogy, which we call the green book, traces our family history up to eight generations of Laurels, as far back to Miguel Dela Cruz, who changed his surname to Laurel. 

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My uncles and aunts have started migrating the family tree online and we were supposed to present this updated version to her and my other grandaunts who are still alive in their generation but unfortunately we weren’t able to do so due to the pandemic. 

She was very generous in sharing with me stories and anecdotes of Philippine History based on first-hand experience as she met a lot of local and international historical figures herself. She was always my go-to person when I have foreign visitors coming to the country, especially VIPs. We will go to the Peninsula or to her apartment to plan in advance and she will not hesitate to roll out the red carpet for them and will even serenade them with some songs along with Tito Cocoy. 

There was one time I had Mongolian parliamentarians visiting the country. We got lost along the way and suddenly we had a police motorcade following us! It was because she called the mayor of San Pedro in Laguna to escort us to Laurel Gardens, where the museum of Lolo Doy is located. 

The last time I saw her in person was when Taal Volcano erupted in January 2020 and we still pushed through entertaining the former chief economist of the Bank of France because the show must go on. She even surprised us all by having a string quartet from the PPO to entertain our VIP. All my guests that I have brought to her experienced the best Filipino hospitality as she was a great hostess even in her twilight years. 

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But one thing you will always notice and admire with her when you meet her is her sincerity and genuine love for country and that we should always give our best in whatever fields we are in. When my grandmother passed away in 2017, Lola Celia filled her void in my life. Thank you, Lola Celia, for everything and I will miss you dearly. 

Celia and son Cocoy Laurel

Photo by COURTESY OF THE LAUREL FAMILY.

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