Celia Diaz Laurel draws final curtain at 93

| Written by Arlyn VCD Palisoc Romualdo

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,”

— William Shakespeare, As You Like It

A celebrated thespian indeed, Celia Diaz Laurel, played many parts on stage, acting in 74 plays from 1947 to 1992. But she was also more than an actress. She was a production, set, and costume designer, with 83 productions in her belt.

Outside the world of theater, but still in the realm of the arts, she had multiple roles as well: painter, author, philanthropist, and advocate. It was the same in her personal life. She was “mommy”, “lola”, “tita”, “Nenita” and “Nitay” to her family, relatives and friends.

To many, she was the Celia Diaz Laurel. And she bade farewell to her many roles on 12 July 2021 when she succumbed to complications from a stroke. She was 93.

Born on 29 May 1928 in Talisay, Negros Occidental to Anselmo Sison Diaz and Concepcion Gonzalez Franco, Maria Luz Celia Teresita was the youngest of six children. Her family moved to Manila when she was five. She studied at the Assumption Convent, where she was first exposed to stage performance. But it was in UP, where she would further harness her talent.


Celia Diaz Laurel as primary school student at the Assumption Convent (left) and as a member of the UP Swimming Team (right). Photos courtesy of the Celia Diaz Laurel Official Facebook page and the Salvador H. Laurel Museum and Library Archives.


In 1947, she entered the Fine Arts (FA) program of the University, where she learned from future National Artists Maestros Fernando Amorsolo and Guillermo Tolentino. In the same year, she became a member of the UP Dramatic Club. It was then under the helm of its newly appointed director, Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero, who was himself also later named National Artist.

Throughout her college life, Celia was able to successfully balance her roles as: FA student; theater actress in the UP Dramatic Club, Manila Community Players, and Dramatic Philippines; and, UP Swimming Team member. She was even able to nurture a blossoming relationship with a law student named Salvador Roman “Doy” Hidalgo Laurel, whom she married in 1950, and who would later become a senator and then a vice president of the Philippines. Doy and Celia, already parents of two, graduated from UP in 1952.


Celia Diaz Laurel as Kinume in Repertory Philippines’ staging of Rashomon in 1970 (left) and as a recipient of the UP Alumni Association Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award in 2015 (right). Left photo courtesy of the Celia Diaz Laurel Official Facebook page and the Salvador H. Laurel Museum and Library Archives; right photo from UPMPRO.


They left for the US that same year, placing daughters Susana and Celine in the care of Celia’s mother. With Doy taking his Master of Laws at Yale University, Celia decided to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in the same university as well. But her love of the stage pushed her in a different direction and she transferred to Yale’s post-graduate Drama program, acting in six productions there. When Celia had gotten pregnant, they decided she would deliver the baby in the Philippines. She gave birth to their third child and first son, Victor, just a few days after she had arrived. Doy remained in the US to finish his master’s but it was not long before he, too, was back home. It had only taken him 10 months to finish the program.


Celia Diaz Laurel (middle) takes over her husband’s senatorial campaign in 1967 after he figured in a vehicular accident. Photos courtesy of the Celia Diaz Laurel Official Facebook page and the Salvador H. Laurel Museum and Library Archives.


As their family grew, blessed with five more children, David, Lorenzo, Stella, Kristipi, and Marissa, and as Doy’s political career soared, Celia proved herself to be a superwoman. She continued to be an accomplished actress with the UP Dramatic Club, Dramatic Philippines, and Repertory Philippines, where she was in 53 productions. Even as she moved on to theater production design, she also painted, wrote poetry, authored books, did advocacy and philanthropic work. On the home front, she was a supportive wife, a doting mother, and a loving grandmother. Celia, the matriarch of the Diaz Laurel family, was strength amid grief with the loss of Doy, Kristipi, and Stella.


Senator Salvador “Doy” H. Laurel and his family in 1968. Photo courtesy of the Salvador H. Laurel Museum and Library Archives.


For her life’s outstanding work, Celia received the 2015 UP Alumni Association Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award, the 2016 Natatanging Gawad Buhay for Lifetime Achievement Award from the Philippine Legitimate Stage Artists Group, and the 2016 Max Soliven Lifetime Achievement Award from PeopleAsia.

Such an achiever Celia was that she even launched a book, My Lives Behind the Proscenium, on her 93rd birthday, less than two months before she passed.


Celia Diaz Laurel’s book, My Lives Behind the Proscenium, was launched on 29 May 2021, her 93rd birthday. Photo courtesy of the Celia Diaz Laurel Official Facebook page and the Salvador H. Laurel Museum and Library Archives.


Yes, all the world is a stage and Celia was but a player. But what an amazing player! She had her entrance and exit. In her lifetime, she played many parts. And she was successful and meaningful in each one. She is survived by her six remaining children, Susana, Celine, Victor, David, Lorenzo, and Marissa, and 19 grandchildren. Her family says her 93 years on this earth was “a life so beautifully lived [it] deserves to be etched into our memory forever.”