Lyding Castillo: How do you mark a friendship of more than 70 years?

From journalism to the corporate world, it outlasted my marriage by more than a decade

Lydia Castillo, the trailblazing career woman and pioneering food entrepreneur (From FB of Cara Gallardo Weil)

Lydia Castillo with daughters Doreen (left) and Mina (From FB of Mina C. DL-Northcott)

(Lydia Castillo was a well-known career woman and a trailblazer—an empowered Filipina even long before the pursuit of career and business was the norm among Filipino women. In the ‘60s she was a journalist with a pre-martial law broadsheet, then in the succeeding decades became the marketing and communications head of Cathay Pacific, in the travel boom years. Upon her retirement, she ran a popular In The Basket weekly column for Philippine Star magazine, where she shared her expertise in sourcing food and ingredients, and ran an un-bylined Quiet Diner restaurant review weekly column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She also pioneered in food entrepreneurship with her Private Kitchen, which was in demand for her home-cooked and heirloom dishes. She also authored In The Basket bestselling books. With her passing on Sept. 25, 2021, her family was joined in mourning by colleagues and friends that cut across media, travel, and the hospitality industries.—Editor)

Some people call her “Lyding,” some call her “Di” or “Didi.” Those who know her as “Lyding” are usually from the corporate world of the hotel and travel industries. Those who call her “Di” or “Didi” are mostly friends from university days. I belong to the latter.

Among those who know her as Lyding is former hotelier Carmita Francisco, whose friendship with Lydia goes back to the latter’s Hilton days. “We did joint promotions with Cathay Pacific. She, Chiqui Recio Ang and I became close friends, and when Chiqui died suddenly, our bond became closer yet because of our devastating loss.

“It was a friendship nurtured through the years, including in those now famous ‘eating club’ lunches which the three of us initiated.  Lydia could be taray (aggressive, intimidating, sometimes both), and inviting people to join us for lunch could be tricky, but I knew instinctively whom to invite. Luckily we both lived in the south, so impromptu visits to her home in Verdana for her delicious lunches were always a delight.  She wrote a regular column called In My Basket for one of the local magazines. I like to think that I was ‘in her basket.’

“It’s starting to get cooler now in Vancouver where I am visiting family, and I always look forward to slipping into bed with a warm comforter … the same comfortable feeling  I have with Lyding. It is priceless! I shall miss her!”

My own friendship with Lydia spanned more than 70 years, outlasting my marriage by more than a decade. It began when we were both fresh-faced students of Philosophy & Letters at the University of Santo Tomas.

Even in college, Lydia was always prim and proper. Our uniform consisted of a white blouse with a shoestring necktie and pleated skirt. Her skirt never seemed to crease, but there was an occasion when one of our priest professors offered to give her a piece of cloth to cover her sleeveless arms. I recall the occasion with glee!

She was ever the conscientious student. She never cut classes, never missed a class. In contrast, I spent more time in the segregated girl’s canteen munching on peanuts and drinking Coke, the “real thing,” instead of attending class. Predictably, I think she graduated with honors, while I barely—thankfully—squeezed through, or my father would never have forgiven me.

Post college graduation, we managed to keep in touch. Her mom was working at Malacañang, as was one of my aunts, my ninang, actually. I don’t know at what point she was hired as assistant to Society editor Lourdes Pena Henson, but when Lulu went on leave to have yet another baby, she invited me to join her as her temporary assistant. My temporary status subsequently became permanent when I was assigned to assist Women’s editor Enriqueta David Perez, and as regular staffer in the paper’s Sunday magazine, then edited by Eddie Lachica. It was there where I met—and later married—my husband, Bert, then the paper’s political cartoonist.

Credit: Video submitted to by Lydia Castillo’s family

Didi was still working there when Bert and I left for Hong Kong in the early ‘60s to join a start-up publication, The Asia Magazine. Sometime thereafter, she also quit the daily to work for Cathay Pacific. There she lorded it over top brass and staff underlings. The job gave her plenty of opportunities to visit Hong Kong on official as well as private business. And whether on official or private visit, she was wont to stay at the “Gallardo Hotel.”

The Chinese amahs knew her, as did the Filipino kasambahay who later replaced the former. Not infrequently she would just settle into the guestroom and call me in the office to inform me that she was in residence. Our home was the favorite go-to place for family and friends. Not for nothing was it called the Gallardo Hotel.

It was there she came when expecting her first daughter Doreen, and it was there she came when expecting her second, Mina.

One would think that friendships of such long duration deserve to be marked, somehow. And isn’t it regrettable that while marriages have anniversaries, friendships don’t?

Lydia Castillo (seated) celebrating her birthday in 2019 with family and friends from the travel and hotel industries: from left, Peachie Recio, Mila Magsaysay-Valenzuela, Toni Gregory-Palenzuela, Conchita Razon, the author, Marita Marcos, Charisse Chuidian

Credit: Video submitted to by Lydia Castillo’s family

About author


She was a leading journalist/editor both in Manila and in Hong Kong, where she and her husband founded and ran a pioneering home/interior design magazine. She now keeps a stylish home in the south.

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