I arrived in the Philippines in February 1953 as a young and impressionable Miss Universe to attend the official opening ceremonies of the first international fair in Manila. I was completely overwhelmed by the outpouring enthusiasm, warmth and adoration of the crowds of people wherever I went. I had never expected anything quite so magnificent – nor the extraordinary and special arrangements that were made to make me feel welcome and comfortable.
I was invited to stay in the Presidential Suite of the Manila Hotel. I had my own Miss Universe committee to take care of my every need and to provide advice and companionship throughout my stay. Among the many exciting events that I particularly remember, was the party in my honour in Malacanang Palace given by the President of the Philippines, President Quirino. It was truly like living a dream. I remember shedding copious tears as I waved my final goodbyes to the many who came to see me off. Little did I know then that I would return so soon.
When I returned to the Philippines some months later as a young bride, married to Virgilio Hilario a new chapter in my life was to unfold. I was faced with a great many challenges and obligations – many of which I had not foreseen. For one, I had naively thought that I would live a quiet and peaceful life of a wife away from the limelight, responsibilities and obligations of the first Miss Universe. That of course was not to be. I soon began my first public appearances in charity events and involvements in many facets of the community, adjusting to the totally different environments, climate, culture, customs of the country and my new home in Malate. It was exciting, but not without its problems and demands. Virgilio’s family and friends were always kind and ready with their advise – a big help to an inexperienced and often perplexed newcomer.
Some years later we started a family which eventually grew to include five children: three boys and two girls – a great joy to both of us. I was a busy mother as well as a business partner as I was always included in our business ventures. One of them being the Gilarmi Apartment Hotel, our first effort together as partners. It is still in existence and doing well, I hear, under new ownership. We were active in the Barrio Leaders Association movement and traveled the country as Gil was for many years the President of the organization. Our social life was busy with a great deal of entertaining for business and friends. We were even busier after Gil was named the Honorary Consul of Finland, a great honour that he was very proud of. He loved Finland and its people. The position gave us the opportunity to meet many important Finnish people from the world of business and diplomacy. One of our principal responsibilities was to arrange their schedules and official meetings with the leaders of the Philippines. We were able to bring together key representatives from both countries to further our mutual interests.
The years from 1953 until 1979, when we lived in the Philippines, were years of great personal growth, fulfillment and happiness for me. I will always remember the great kindness and affection of the Filipino people, and will always be grateful for the opportunity to have had this experience to live among these extraordinarily hospitable and generous people. I never lost touch with Finland as we were frequent visitors there.
When the children were old enough to travel, they came with us almost annually for long visits. Now the children live in five different countries: Arne in Santiago, Chile with his wife Carol, a son Cristobal (23 years) and daughter Maria Elisa (16 years); Anna-Lisa lives in Barcelona, Spain with her husband Luis, a daughter Katrin (18) and a son Alejandro (16); Jose/Jussi lives in Vancouver, Canada with his wife Jaqueline; Eva-Maria in Foster City, California with Carl, a daughter Natalie (14) and a son Eric (11); and Miguel/Mikko lives in Manila, Philippines.
The children have their roots in the Philippines where they grew up and will always feel a part of the country although they live so far away now. Mikko is the only one who remained there. They, however, feel also great affection for Finland and its people whom they admire.
They have happy memories of their visits there. Now, having lived most of their lives abroad, I believe they feel like citizens of the world, but enriched by their multi-cultural and multi-national backgrounds.
As for keeping in touch with the news of the Philippines, I do have the opportunity through my friends who live there and who keep me informed of the current political events and new developments. I always read with great interest all the news I find in the press or see on television.
My wishes for the Philippines are that people live in peace, prosper and continue to live by the democratic principles and succeed in all their aspirations both at home and in the global arena.
~Armi Helena Williams~
1952 Miss Universe and her court