Dr. Maria Aurora Carbonell-Castilo Dr. Maria Aurora Carbonell-Castilo

My Sister, My Idol By: Eleanor Carbonell

Idols are known as aspirational figures that seem larger than life. My idol is the same, except she is not simply larger than life but she has energized my family’s life with happiness and love. My sister is my idol. To this day, when I think of her, love speaks out her name, DR. MARIA AURORA CARBONELL-CATILO. Growing up and going through life’s journey and adventures together was a privilege.
My sister, whom my family fondly call, Bebs, is the eldest of nine children. In our family, there are seven girls and two boys. I am the second child. My father also had five children from his first marriage: three boys and two girls. Our mother, Socorro Alcid Carbonell was a primary school teacher in Mathematics and Social Studies for 40 years. Our father, Juan Galvez Carbonell served as Governor in the province of La Union and was known for his honesty and integrity. Our parents raised us to be kind, generous, socially conscious and civic-minded. And my sister, Bebs did the same for all of us.
Bebs started her remarkable life by pursuing her academic dreams. Let me open the door for you all and take a peek at her extraordinary journey. Bebs received her Bachelor of Arts degree, major in Sociology, Masters and Doctorate degrees from the University of the Philippines. She also took cognate courses at the University of Michigan and University of Hawaii. She then went to pursue post-doctoral studies as a Fulbright visiting scholar, researching on the Executive (President) and Legislative (Congress) relationships in the United States. She was also a Ford Foundation graduate awardee. I am still in awe and find it hard to put my head around her accomplishments at a very young age.
My sister then became an Associate Professor at the College of Public Administration, University of the Philippines. She was the Editor of the very prestigious Philippine Journal of Public Administration. She is also very proud to have been the senior author of a book titled, MANIPULATED ELECTIONS, published shortly before the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship. In her words, the book ‘documented and demonstrated that political corruption can be institutionalised and legalized and that indeed, political institutions and processes can be manipulated and corrupted for private ends’.
Bebs didn’t stop there. She got married to Alejandro Catilo, a retired Air Force officer and now resides in Alexandria, Virginia. They have three beautiful children and two stepchildren. They are also now grandparents to Alejandro III and Olivia.
According to my daughter, Dr. Elaine Laforteza, her Ninang Bebs inspires her to ‘think beyond our comfort zones and experience the world with wonder, curiosity and courage’. She cites her Ninang’s academic accomplishments and prowess as a mother, aunt and friend as motivational.
I am not the only one holding a torch for my beautiful sister. Here are some of the accolades from her children and other members of the family.
Alejandro (Zandro) Jr. lives in Lipa City. He is a fantastic illustrator and musician, plays the guitar like a real pro and is a very good singer and songwriter. Josephine (Jogee), currently Vice-President at John Marshall Bank in Resta, Virginia had this to say, “Nay, as I fondly call her has always been the positive influence and inspiration in my life. Her unconditional love and devotion to the family is my constant reminder that I am one blessed daughter. I love her a lot and am grateful for her every single day.”
Maria Cecilia, now a practising endocrinologist says, “ I am a very proud daughter of my Mom. Everything I am and have accomplished in my life would not have been possible without her love and support. Intellectually, she inspires me to be always curious in my profession as a doctor. She is an example that I always look up to as a wife, now a mother, and as a strong woman in my own right.”
Paolo is a lobbyist and financier. He says, “My mother is exceptional.I am absolutely blessed. So difficult to pin down the few words to convey the exquisite woman that she is. She is the reflection of strength and kindness. She loves us so deeply. She offers unfaltering love to an imperfect world. She is my Mom.”
Our sister, Emma says, “A sister like no other. The world is a better place because of her. She is the embodiment of all good things. She is our mentor and confidante. Simply said, a woman of substance. “Another sister, Cora says, “Bebs is not only my sister. She is my second mother, too.”
Julius, our nephew notes, “Just one word: wise. Or it’s one thing to be smart but it is another to be wise. It is better to be wise. I believe that being wise is the application of being smart. Tita Bebs is wise.”
My sister’s life was going great until ten years ago when her youngest son, John Steve lost his life in a tragic accident while coaching rowers at the Potomac River. At the time of the accident, he was studying a BS in Biology at the University of Virginia (UVA) and cramming for the medical school entrance exams He was awarded his degree posthumously. UVA named a permanent bench in his honour at the UVA campus. He, too was an active member of the UVA Organization of Young Filipino Americans and took part in dances and cultural events in college. He was fiercely proud of his Filipino heritage even displaying the Philippine flag on his bookbag. The Rowing Club also established a scholarship fund in his name and named a rowing shell in his honour. He was also a volunteer at an orphanage at the Dominican Republic.
This is a short story about my sister. She is living a remarkable life to this day. She rose above all the trials and challenges that she had to go through and rose above all these with strength and determination. I can say with love and pride that she truly is a living miracle. She is not only our idol, she is our hero. She is my sister.

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