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Cecilia Quiros died April 27 in West Hartford, Connecticut. She was 96 years old, and living in the home of her beloved only child. For the previous 44 years, she had lived in a one-bedroom apartment on West 70th in Manhattan. But she could also be found in Kyoto, Brasilia, Nagasaki, Alaska, Kenya, and Antarctica — and had begun her life in Bogata.
She had planned to be an opera singer, and was accepted at 15 into a prestigious Italian academy, but gave it up to care for her bedridden mother until her death. Schools and communities in mid-1900's Colombia were severely Catholic; the inquisitive, opinionated, whistle-blowing Cecilia did not approve of some of the dark behaviors she witnessed, and abandoned religion early on.
At the age of 22, she wed, had a child, and quickly realized she treasured motherhood but not traditional marriage. She began to write columns about local life for a newspaper, then talked her way into a one-woman radio program. When she was 31, firmly dreaming, she left for the United States with her 8-year-old, a suitcase, and a bouquet of flowers. She knew how to cook chicken — just chicken, three ways — and there was a good deal of poultry for dinner.
She wrote in Spanish and English for print and for the Voice of America — reaching almost 50 countries; interviewing politicians and Hollywood glitterati, the President of Argentina, and Alfred Hitchcock. Only Sean Connery caused her to lose her composure.
For Cecilia, New York was not a city but a passion. She was the 5’1” woman who chased her mugger down Park Avenue; the slight elder who, in her eighties, walked up 27 flights to her apartment during a famous blackout; the urban ocean lover who took subways with her sister and best friend on Saturday to Jones Beach, soaked in the sun for hours, then repeated it on Sunday.
Traditionally, parents worry about children. But as Cecelia aged and traveled — she was one of the first non-military women allowed onto the South Pole — her son quietly took out more insurance.
She journeyed freely, yet held her life belongings close. Along with thousands of pages of radio manuscripts, she saved small plastic bags of paper clips tied with reused rubber bands, and piles of index cards filled with details of interviews she'd conducted. There were two criteria: if something had a memory attached, you kept it. If it could be reused, you kept it. This divided the world nicely, although she wound up keeping almost everything.
Before Cecilia finally moved to Connecticut, she commuted there often. She was a late sleeper; however, her grandchildren — who she fed ice cream for breakfast and took to see ET not once but six times — would race up to her room in the morning, leap into her bed, and linger for hours. There was no hurry.
She had been everywhere in the world, but treasured these visits most.
Did you know Cecilia Quiros? Share your memories in the comments section.
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