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Elsa Payumo: Beauty in service

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Elsa Payumo hits the runway for a fundraising fashion show.

Heads would turn whenever she attended conventions, congresses and milestone celebrations. Half a century and a decade later, she still draws attention.

She is the perennial Elsa Payumo, one of the most lauded beauty queens — and much more — of our time.

Having celebrated her 80th birthday just before the pandemic, she gratefully looked back on her life — with no regrets, mind you — as she recounted the series of events she experienced, through the perhaps-well-documented segments of her life under the public limelight.

After a happy childhood in Bataan, Elsa went to take up Voice and Piano at the University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music.

 

Elsa during her 80th birthday celebration.

Miss Caltex
She became the muse of several organizations and deemed as a campus crush by many. Family and friends seriously motivated her to join the selection for Miss Caltex — at the time the beauty and brains competition to watch out for. This was the crowning glory, the absolute cream of the crop for anyone who wanted to be in the pageant arena.

She easily won the competition in 1963. Word of her victory spread like wildfire and she became an overnight sensation.

Known and adulated not only for her pretty face and sharp brains, complemented by her sharing and caring nature, she charmed and captured the general public through her continuous appearances as cover girl of several glossies, go-to ramp model for fundraiser fashion shows, and the choice of Filipino fashion designers and merchandisers for collaborations with foreign luxury brands.

Elsa was so popular that she was offered to be the next biggest movie star. However, she wanted to pursue more fulfilling avenues.

As the newly minted corporate ambassador of goodwill, she visited destinations she has never been to before, which gave her the opportunity to explore the country’s beautiful islands. She immersed herself into the nitty-gritty of airline flights, shipping sails, hotel accommodations, sightseeing schedules, courtesy calls, media interviews and the exciting world of hospitality.

Reckoning time, her heart whispered she wished to be part of the travel and tourism industry.

In interviews, she declared: “I realized there is more to life than the trivial concerns of the renowned. I want to serve the country with a purpose.”

 

Baron Travel Girl
A travel agency it was, where she pioneered women-led initiatives. With her influence, she launched the Baron Travel Girl, considered as prestigious as Miss Caltex.

She was then elected president of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association.

During her stint, she spearheaded the Outstanding Taxi Driver of the Year citation, which was later on adopted by the Department of Tourism itself and incorporated it into the Annual Kalakbay Awards.

Through her many projects, she was recognized as the first recipient of the Tourism Category of the Ten Outstanding Women in Nation’s Service (TOWNS) Award, which aimed to empower women.

She was likewise elected as a pro-people Makati councilor for one term.

Reversal of fortunes
Due to a reversal of fortunes — the lingering illnesses of family members, failed endeavors and loss of other business — Elsa let go of her material possessions and found herself in the biggest slump of her life.

At that time, she discovered Buklod ng Pag-ibig, founded by Fr. Pascual Adorable, S.J., a Catholic community that was instrumental in her healing through trying times. The Bible has been her constant companion through the years. She would always turn to the Holy Book for inspiration, guidance and answers.

She soon dedicated her time to Bible studies, prayer meetings and fundraisers. She held inspirational talks for the Balik-Samahan group of actors and delved into charitable ventures with her various groups of friends of beauty queens, Karilagan models, travel and tourism circles and the Nations Womens Group.

She recalled: “I was blessed by the Lord to win over a million pesos as a contestant in the TV game show Deal or No Deal, an amount I donated entirely to Buklod ng Pag-ibig.”

Fast forward to the present. Today, Elsa, at 80, is still as radiant as ever, appreciating glorious pasts, never forgetting her trials, and, with gratitude, gives back as much as she can to the community.

No doubt, she has found genuine fulfillment and happiness.

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