Her passion is with the poor, especially women and children. Her unswerving commitment to impoverished communities has helped transform lives and institutions globally. A genuine person inside and out, who will fight for the rights of the people, with the people, and for the people --- that is how many friends and colleagues described Lorna.
Dr. Lorna Silvestre Labayen, or “Lorns” as known to many, died of cancer last April 10, 2012 in Independence, Missouri at the age of 65. But her life and legacy is lived on and celebrated as many people and organization mourn the loss of their friend, confidant, mentor, colleague, daughter, cousin, mother, and sis. Three memorial services were held here in the Philippines and in the US, as well as plenty of religious mass were offered to her throughout the world.
Growing up as a true blood Manilenya, she attended schools in Manila up until she earned her doctor of medicine degree at the University of the Philippines – Manila College of Medicine. As an only child, she never fell short of brothers and sisters as she was a part of the Mu Sigma Phi Sorority batch 1972. Her love story with Dennis Labayen (Mu 1972) began during their pre-med days as they were with the same barkada, until medical school when Dennis decided to join Mu and Lorna later followed. They were married almost 38 years but known each other for more than 47 years. They later had 3 daughters, all involved in development work or health.
Medical School has become her training ground. She was recruited to pursue a surgical residency in PGH before she graduated, but instead chose to work in poor rural communities. As a specialist of Community Health, Integrated Rural Development and Participatory Human Development, Lorna started her training with the University of the Philippines Community Comprehensive Health Program (UP-CCHP) in Bay, Laguna where she later became a trainer, mentor and instructor until 1978. She also taught courses in De Lasalle University in Dasmarinas, Cavite while working full time at the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) in Silang Cavite as the field director, deputy director, director of the health programs and projects as well as serving as the institutes’ physician from 1978-1999. During her career in IIRR, she also pursued further studies on International Development Studties at Selly Oak Colleges in Birmingham England in 1992.
After her retirement from IIRR she became a free lance consultant to Asia Development Bank, Philippine government (Department of Health [DOH], National Economic Development Authority[NEDA]), Catholic Relief Services, IIRR, Philippine German Development Foundation Inc (PHILGERFUND), Plan International and Outreach International on evaluation and training in social and health development programs.
A world class development worker and humanitarian she has traveled and helped countries in Asia, Central America and Africa such as Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mongolia, China, Brazil, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Haiti, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador, Paraguay, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Rwanda, and Egypt.
In 1997, the University of Philippines medical alumni honored Lorna Labayen (along with her husband, Dr. Dennis Labayen) with its Community Service Award. In 2010, Community of Christ honored the couple with its International Human Rights Award for Service, citing Lorna’s compassion, generosity and deep intellectual curiosity. She was “a reformer of institutions on the critical issue of gender equality among the poor.”
Make no mistake. Lorna is an epitome of balance. With her hectic work and travel schedule, she managed to keep her vibrant social life and kept in touch with friends even from highschool, while still being a mother. More than a mother to her daughters Kweet, Yllah, and Lea, she was also a mother/ate to many. Her household in Cavite is full of people she had helped and shared her blessings with, throughout the years. She exemplified herself as a hard worker while enjoying life to the fullest, without complaining, full of positive energy, and always with a gracious smile. She enjoys being around people.
When asked before why she didn’t choose to practice in hospitals and private clinic so she will become rich, she answered: “Ibang fulfillment… pag nakatulong ka sa ibang tao. (It’s a different kind of fulfillment… when you serve and help other people”). They [Deng ‘72 and Lorna ‘72] may not be the doctors who cure physical illnesses… but they work with people who were crippled by poverty, hopelessness, and discrimination to improve their individual lives and families as a community.