Marita Tan Gaddi: Beautiful, energetic and carefree at 94

An amazing lady!

That’s how I would describe the nonagenarian Marita Tan Gaddi whom I recently met when her daughter Susan Gaddi Campos, not surprisingly as gorgeous and svelte as she, invited me to a merienda at the Valle Verde Clubhouse.

I first became aware of Marita — if I may dare call her by her first name — when I saw Susan’s post about her mom joining the Zumba session at the Valle Verde Country Club, her stomping ground.

Realizing she is “young” at 94 and dancing like anyone from 18 to 28 to 48, I could not help being both bewildered and impressed. I told myself: “I have to meet her.” If anyone had found the fountain of youth, it had to be this lady.

Rustan’s Young VIP

Our introduction to each other came easy because I had met her daughter Susan more than a year earlier. A columnist in the social set section that I edit, Agile Zamora, and Susan are Facebook friends. When I saw Susan’s name on Agile’s friends list, I sent her a friend request. Hers is a familiar name from the mid-1970s when I often saw her pictures on the covers and inside pages of the iconic Women’s Journal, a lifestyle magazine that was the number one reading fare of Filipino women from the 1950s to the 1980s, among other lifestyle magazines. Susan, during her cover girl days, was a member of the Rustan’s Department Store’s Young VIP Council. These were young ladies who belonged to good families, studied in exclusive schools and typified the image of the trendy and personable young Filipina. They modelled clothes designed by Rustan’s in-house designers and well-known European couturiers. Having come across Susan again via FB, it wasn’t long before I featured her as a well-dressed do-gooding young matron — she being the founder of the Ladies of Manila, a group engaged in philanthropic projects.

When I finally met Susan in person, she was, of course, with her mom, the foremost reason for our meeting. With us was Susan’s businessman husband, Bunny Kretzschmar Campos.

In our conversation, Marita shared that she enjoys walking and dancing. At home, she exercises by going up and down the stairs by herself. To my surprise, she revealed that she loves crispy pata, lechon kawali, sans rival, bibingka, halo-halo and ice cream. She also drinks Coke every day. Other than dancing, she also loves to sing — both passions dating back to her youth.

Daughter’s wedding gown

I asked her how she had been able to overcome the challenges that she undoubtedly faced through the years. Her reply? “I just adjust to a situation. If I can do something about it, I will do my part. But if it requires something beyond my capability, I make the most of the situation.”

While mother and daughter are both lovely and light in complexion, Susan pointed out, “We’re very different in temperament. She’s feisty and I’m the exact opposite.”

Expectedly, their bonding moments have been memorable. “She sewed my wedding gown,” Susan said. They also counsel each other. “Her best advice to me is ‘Use your God-given talents,’” Susan confided.

Of her mom’s kindness and generosity, Susan related her unforgettable story.

“I was in Grade 4. The day before our class excursion, my mom asked me what I wanted to bring for snacks and, without batting an eyelash, I told her I would love to have pancakes. The following day, I wondered why my lunch and snack bag was heavy. During snack time, I was surprised to see several layers of pancakes. I shared them with some classmates but still had a lot of untouched and uneaten pancakes. While we were enjoying our break, an old woman approached us. She was begging for food so I gave her the remaining pancakes. She looked inside the bag, immediately found a place to sit and started devouring the pancakes.

“When I got home, my mom asked me if I shared the pancakes with my classmates. I told her I did but I gave the rest to a pitiful old woman who was begging for food. She smiled at me and said, ‘I did the right thing,’ and that she was so pleased that a small act of kindness could go a long way.”


An only child

According to Susan, her mom Marita “grew up in Manila. She’s half-Chinese. Her father came from mainland China, while her mother was mestiza Filipina. She was an only child. When her father suddenly passed away in Samar, they moved to Manila.”

Susan related: “My mother spent most of her childhood as an intern at Sta Isabel College. She was a consistent honor student and she wrote for their school paper. During her free time, she would practice new dance steps with her friends. She enjoyed singing too. She had a beautiful voice, and they fondly called her the Jo Stafford of the Philippines. After high school, she married a pre-med student, Rodolfo Gaddi, who eventually graduated fourth place in the dental board exam. They had five children, four girls and a boy.

It has been years since Marita was widowed. To this day, she has remained physically sound, mentally alert and capable of independent action, whether walking, dancing to the tune of lively music or going up and down the stairs. She also loves doing crossword puzzle. But of her many traits, her being prayerful and grateful tops the reasons for her joyful life.

Fortunate woman

A living testimony to the positive results of joie de vivre, Marita can openly say that even if she has defied certain rules of healthy living, she has kept her youthful strength and vitality. But on the other hand, she has always been an “action woman” in the literal sense of the word, not one to stay put and let things pass her by. “I have also been always optimistic and grateful for life’s blessings,” Marita told me with her eyes glowing and full of sincerity.

If Marita is a fortunate woman, her children and grandchildren are even more fortunate for they continue to enjoy her caring and gentle presence. If at all, she is the best reminder to the younger generations that there is life beyond the usual 60 or 70 or, in this case, even 80 and 90.  The Lord, indeed, has blessed her with so much grace.