Devoted. Passionate. Fearless. Motherly.
Those are just few of the words that would best describe my late aunt. Known as “Vangie” and “Ma’am Z” to her colleagues and her students, and “Nanay Helen” or simply “Helen” to family and friends, Dr. Evangeline Milanes-Zalamea devoted her life to teaching and to sharing her knowledge with a lot of people.
Hearing other people talk about Nanay Helen’s legacy during the necrological service made me realize how great of an impact she left on the lives of many. To be honest, I do not know her that personally, mainly because I haven’t had the chance to bond with her for a long time when she was still alive. But many stood as witnesses to her kindness and generosity. Colleagues attest to her devotion and passion when it comes to work. They say that she is not only a diligent worker, but a compassionate mother to her students as well. She was well-known for her work ethics and for her grace and composure. She was a woman of righteousness and respect. Many students look up to her not just because of her expertise in her profession, but also because she is one of the few who truly cared. She dedicated her whole life not to blasé teaching, but to sharing words of wisdom. The saying “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life” couldn’t be truer.
I believe everyone would agree that Nanay Helen was indeed a strong woman. Having undergone dialysis for eight long years, who wouldn’t say that she really had a will to live? She battled with her illness mostly on her own, not once complaining about the pain, the stress, and the hassle it has brought into her life. Even with her ongoing dialysis, she continued to attend her classes every day to teach. Her students and colleagues were all witnesses to how determined she was to still attend to her daily tasks despite her body slowly weakening. In her necrology, one of her students noted how she would see Nanay Helen struggling to walk up the stairs but would be very active and prepared once her lecture starts, not failing to bring her materials and visuals for the class.
She was a workaholic – everybody said so. Putting her in a hospital room for three months with nothing to do figuratively killed her. Her body was weak, but her brain was still sharp as a bullet, that even with shaky hands, she would still communicate with us through her writings and letters. I can also remember clearly how Nanay would listen intently to our stories whenever we would visit her at the hospital. She couldn’t talk because of the tube attached to her throat but she would respond with smiles and nods.
There were the difficulties, pains, and sacrifices, but there also came the good times. One of Nanay’s quirks was her fondness for red shoes, that there came a time when she was conflicted between buying medicines for Tatay Sammy, her late husband, and purchasing a pair of red heels she spotted in the mall. In the end, she bought both, but with the medicines lasting for only a few days. One of her students also shared how she would accessorize every carefully matched outfit with red lips, which proved to be one of her trademarks. Aside from being a mentor to many, Nanay Helen was also known for her sought-after dishes, recipes of which she could only deliver in perfection, no matter how detailed and well-written they were for reference of others. One of her famous recipes was that of the cheesecake. It was da bomb diggity, ‘nuff said.
Nanay had her fair share of life’s low’s and high’s, up’s and down’s. Her body may be gone now but her spirit will live on. Her wisdom and teaching will be passed on to generations and more, that I hope.
From her own words, “There will be no goodbye’s, only ‘see you soon’.”
Sleep well, Nanay. You are already missed.
Dr. Evangeline M. Zalamea
September 21, 1953 – February 16, 2015