CONSUELO ALMONTE: The Renaissance Filipina Becomes
The Icon of The Aging Fil-Am
The epitome ´of the Renaissance woman, Consuelo "Connie" Almonte auspiciously chose to major in the Humanities and Social Welfare from the University of the Philippines in the 1960’s. Her academic training was fully utilized in her career, when she started as Trust Officer of Soriano y Cia (managers of San Miguel Beer) 1962-68, until she came to the United States in 1968. While studying at Hunter College for a Masteral degree in Education, she worked in the Permanent Pakistani Mission to the UN, where she remained for the next 43 years of her life. Connie's energy and talent would further find expression in her work as night Manager of Le Steak Restaurant from 1977- 1993. Life as a public speaker, strategic planner, and trainer in her day work at the Pakistani Mission and a night job, opened more creative challenges and excitement that expanded her horizons and offered the best opportunities to fulfill herself. Connie met "almost every significant political figure that had been responsible for the rising (and sometimes falling), the shaping and the molding ---- the very people who made the history of Pakistan," according to Marium Soomro in an article entitled, "Consuelo: A Window of Pakistan."
Connie glowingly recalls, "It was my second home, the best part of my life." In gratitude, the Pakistani Government awarded her the Tamgha-e-Kidmat, the 7th highest honor given to military persons or civilians, and the award was given during her trip to Pakistan with spouse Mark Shaffer, upon the invitation of then Prime Minister Motharma Benazir Bhutto. Upon her retirement in December 2011, the Pakistan League of USA awarded her a lifetime Award of Excellence for her long and loyal service to Pakistan.
Upon her return to the Fil-Am community, Consuelo has re-created herself as president of Philippine American Group for Aging Seniors of America concurrently as the Vice-President, Eastern Region of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association. Under Connie’s leadership, PAGASA was awarded the 2015 TOFA (The Outstanding Filipino Americans) for bringing invisible Filipino seniors to the forefront of the advocacy for benefits, services and continuing education at PAGASA Social Foundation, embracing its Program on Preparing and Enjoying the Golden Years, not only for the aging Filipino-Americans but the community at large.
Upon her retirement as PAGASA’s President in 2015, she was ready to embrace a more personal life. However, she recalled herself back to public service and founded the Philippine Community Center Services for Aging. She continues her legacy as the “Face of the Aging Fil-Am.” She felt that it was her biggest mission and challenge to continue the advocacy for a cause very much needed in the underserved Fil-Am community, and in so doing, she has become an icon in her own right, as acknowledged by former Consul General of New York, Mario de Leon and the current returning Consul General Theresa de Vega, as a continuation of how she was seen before.
Connie is happily married to Mark Shaffer and leading a vibrant New Yorker's life, this time with her roots in the Filipino-American community.
Program Director, The Nursing Office.Com
A life without line dancing not for Consuelo Almonte
By Cristina DC Pastor
Perhaps no Filipino has ever come to be as intimately associated with Pakistani officialdom as Consuelo Almonte.
For 43 years, Connie, a cheerful woman who stands out for her sparkling laughter and striking summer hats, served as a link between foreign journalists and the Pakistani government.
Depressed over the breakup of her marriage, she came to New York in 1968 to pursue her Master’s in Education at Hunter College. She was enrolled for a year when she found work at the Pakistani Mission to the UN as secretary to the Press Counsellor. She retired in 2011 with the title of Assistant to the Press Minister.
Her job was to connect visiting Pakistani presidents and foreign ministers with top network journalists and made sure she got them press interviews. Through her, Pakistani leaders attending the annual UN General Assembly got to sit down with the likes of Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric, and until recently Megan Kelly and Rachel Maddow in primetime news. In those days, very few women worked in the Mission, and some didn’t speak English all that well. Connie spoke the language confidently.
“I found my work exciting. I knew people from ABC, NBC, CNN, the New York Times,” she said in an interview with The FilAm. The Mission, the first and only job she’s ever had in New York, treated her very well, she quickly added.
Connie became a critical but largely unheralded part of a government that carried on a prickly relationship with the U.S. especially in the days following the killing of Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. She made sure Pakistan’s voice echoed in American media.
One particular episode in 1971 tested Connie’s mettle. Pakistani leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was attending a UN Security Council meeting when he delivered a fiery speech criticizing foreign diplomats for their indifference to Pakistan during the war with India on East Pakistan. Angrily, he raged, “My country is bleeding and here people are sitting discussing what will be for breakfast tomorrow!” With that he ripped his speech to pieces and stormed out of the council meeting.
A press conference had to be called. As her boss, the press minister, was undergoing a heart surgery, Connie stepped up and assembled the media on short notice to make sure Bhutto’s statement made it to the evening news. Connie, as always, delivered.
In recognition of her long and dedicated service, the Pakistani government gave her two awards: the Tamgha Kidmat for meritorious service in 1996, which she received in Islamabad with her husband Mark Shaffer as guests of the government; and the medal of appreciation in 2011, which she received from the President of Jammu and Kashmir. In New York, she received the Life Time Award of Excellence from the Pakistani League of America during their Annual Dinner in 2011.
This was not her only job then. With her lively personality, Connie worked as a night manager for 10 years at Le Steak, a French restaurant in midtown Manhattan. This was followed by another restaurant, a barbecue joint, which she also managed for five more years. But time and health were piling on so she decided to focus solely on her work with the Pakistani Mission.
Connie, a proud cancer survivor, may be recently retired but hardly idle.
A sprightly 76, she is currently the head of the Pagasa Social Foundation, Inc. (Pagasasfi), a non-profit for Filipino seniors. She inherited the leadership position when founder Hector Logrono died in September. As Pagasasfi’s current executive vice president, she is trying to familiarize herself with the needs of her sector and getting the community to give recognition and joy to senior citizens as a vulnerable sector of society.
For Connie, old age is a milestone she would like her fellow senior citizens to acknowledge with grace and without isolation and bitterness.
“We have three options,” she said. “Going back to the Philippines and retiring without Medicare health benefits; staying home and being a burden to our children; or ending up in a nursing home.”
She is offering a fourth. Joining Pagasasfi or becoming a volunteer to make a difference. Since she took over from Hector, she officially launched Pagasasfi at the Philippine Center on October 11, 2013. The foundation has been organizing health fairs, cultural activities, workshops, field trips, and bingo games to seniors free of charge. Coming up is a Mother’s Day celebration and a one-dollar flea market to help raise funds.
And as promised, there will be plenty of time to have fun, like “line dancing with a glass of wine in hand.” Because, for Connie, aging is not about giving up but continuing a life with a swing and a spin.