A Life's Story
January 30, 2021
Harmony & inspiration
Meaningful farewell journey capped life of faith and giving
By: Danielle Da SilvaÂ
Nearly a year ago, in the throes of a difficult fight against cancer, Gloria Ongasco De Paz-Hryniuk departed the frozen Manitoba prairie she’d come to call home, to return one final time to the island nation where she was raised.
It would be a chance to visit her sister and extended family in the Philippines, to say farewell, and to share her pride of country, husband Harold Hryniuk said, before the creeping disease made travel impossible.
"She was sort of a tour guide," Harold said, recalling the February 2020 trip, that included lengthy excursions to visit friends and relatives, touring the coastline and staying at resorts, before the coronavirus pandemic hastened their return to Canada.
After 15 years of living in Winnipeg, it was Gloria’s first time going back to her birthplace.
"It was quite an experience," Harold said. "She was very happy."
After beating breast cancer nearly two decades earlier, in fall 2018 Gloria learned the disease had returned. Despite aggressive treatment and a determined fight, it spread to her lungs and lymph nodes.
On Aug. 10, 2020, Gloria died at Grace Hospice at age 59, with Harold and dear friend Monica Bulacso at her bedside.
Gloria was born in Dasmarinas, Cavite, about 30 kilometres south of Manila, in the Philippines, to parents Sotera and Rafael De Paz on Nov. 18, 1960.
As a young adult she studied at the Philippine Christian University and was an ambitious student, Harold said, ultimately earning two degrees and excelling in business management.
However, her true lifelong passion was singing. After graduating from university, Gloria toured China, the United Arab Emirates and across the Philippines, performing full-time in casinos and large clubs with her band for nine years, before the musicians parted ways.
She then landed a job working at a resort on the island of Palawan, which would set into motion her eventual journey to Canada.
In 2005, a mutual friend who knew Gloria through the resort gave Harold her phone number and suggested he give her a call; she said Gloria was in Seattle during the low-season visiting with friends, both of them were on the market, and assured Harold the two would get along.
Despite being reluctant to cold call a stranger, Harold gave Gloria a ring and the two hit it off over the phone, he said. Not long after, he visited Gloria in Seattle and they continued their courtship.
"When I came back to Winnipeg we would still talk on the phone every day, for hours," he said.
Eventually, circumstances were such that Gloria relocated to Winnipeg — in the middle of a snowstorm, Harold recalls — to stay a while with their mutual friend. After about 10 months of dating, Harold proposed and the two were married within weeks.
"We had 300 guests fly in from all over the place — from here in Winnipeg, Canada and some in the Philippines — on the spur of the moment," Harold recalls. Gloria performed at the reception, to hearty applause. "It was quite the scene I’ll tell you."
Asked what it was about Gloria that won him over, words escape Harold.
"She was a very kind-hearted woman," he said, voice cracking.
The two made their home in East Kildonan and Gloria lost no time bonding with Harold’s three adult children (from a previous marriage) and seven grandchildren.
"She loved the kids and she treated them just like her own," Harold said, explaining that Gloria was unable to have children following her previous cancer treatment.
Gloria worked as an assistant manager for the University of Manitoba’s International Medical Graduate Program and in her free time she volunteered with Manitoba Harvest. On Sundays, she would sing in the choir at St. Gerard Parish, of which she was a member for at least 11 years.
"She always wore a smile, even as the cancer took more from her. She remained a bubbly caring woman deeply rooted in her faith," said Iris Thiesen-Groinus, a choir member at St. Gerard. "Her kind spirit and loving attitude has enriched many lives and will live on in the hearts of those who knew and loved her."
On the last Sunday before the coronavirus pandemic quieted church choirs in Manitoba, Thiesen-Groinus recalled how Gloria, despite being unable to walk because of the cancer regime, joined the chorus to sing. She was always a motivating and inspiring woman, Thiesen-Groinus said.
"I think it’s her determination to just keep going and to enjoy and live life," she said.
"As a choir, we have not gone back yet without her because of the lockdown. There will definitely be a void."
Gloria was also connected with the Filipino community in Winnipeg, sharing her vocal talents at the Manitoba Filipino Street Festival, and performing at countless events over the years, Harold said.
"After we got married, there wasn’t a week that she didn’t have to go some place to sing," he said.
She was diligent in her practise, Harold added, and he adored coming home from business travel to find her practising the latest hits on their karaoke machine.
"She would say ‘I need to get it just exactly perfect. I don’t want to have any mistakes,’" he said.
Gloria was a hard worker who had experienced poverty in her youth and was committed to helping her family, friends and many others, Bulacso said.
The pair met at the resort in Palawan, where Gloria was her superior, and they kept a friendly working relationship.
A few years later, Bulacso was sponsored to immigrate to Manitoba, and learned Gloria had already settled in Winnipeg.
She didn’t expect they would rekindle their friendship when she arrived in Manitoba, but Gloria didn’t hesitate to extend every kindness, Bulacso said.
"By nature she is like that. She is so nice and everyone thinks of her as a very fine, nice lady," she said.
Over the years, Gloria became an unwavering confidante who offered support without judgment, much like a sister, Bulacso said. She called her "Ate Glo."
"I think I survived a lot of things here — especially when I was just starting — because her contribution helped me," Bulacso said. "She experienced the same things, starting in a new country, a new environment, so she really wanted to help me to adjust.
"I will miss her forever."