Tita Dioso Gillespie, 1942-2012: Trailblazing Filipina Editor for Newsweek Magazine

Tita Dioso Gillespie
(Courtesy of Dioso family)

On December 21, the Friday before Christmas, Newsweek magazine closed its final print edition after almost 80 years of publication. Three days earlier, my aunt Teresita "Tita" Dioso Gillespie—a longtime editor at the newsmagazine who had personally closed upwards of 1,500 issues in her 30-year career there—died at the age of 70 at the Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, Maryland, after suffering complications following a heart attack a few weeks earlier. She is survived by Brette Gillespie, her husband of 42 years and a retired Navy officer.

For many of my aunt's former colleagues, the two somber events are inextricably linked. Tita's career at Newsweek goes back to 1976, when she was hired as an editor on the copydesk. Her tenure was interrupted in 1980 by a stint as an editor at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization in Vienna, Austria. But she returned in 1982 and soon afterward became the associate editor in charge of copy style. In 1992 she was promoted to general editor and de facto copy chief, becoming the ultimate authority for upholding the magazine's editorial standards week after week, until she retired in 2008. 

Tita was born in Manila, the third of the four children of my late grandparents Leocadio A. Dioso–a Philippine jurist, diplomat and legal adviser to President Ramon Magsaysay–and the former Rosario Rodriguez Fernandez. After two years at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Tita moved to New York City with her parents and siblings in 1960 when her father was assigned to the Philippine Mission to the United Nations. She completed her undergraduate degree in English and philosophy in 1963 at Hunter College in New York and went on to receive a program certificate in 17th-century English studies at Exeter College at Oxford University in England. She also acquired a graduate degree in Medieval French Literature and Civilization from the Sorbonne in Paris, where she got caught up in the student uprising of 1968. 

Despite such a distinguished pedigree, Tita was no diva. She impressed colleagues not only with her dogged pursuit of perfection in the copy she was editing, vast knowledge of culture and world history and innate intelligence, but also with her humility, good nature and joyful smile. She loved a good story or joke, which was always punctuated with her infectious giggle. She was, in short, the ultimate colleague, in an essentially collegial profession. In an oral history to commemorate the last print issue of Newsweek, Andrew Romano describes the environment in which Tita thrived: 

An old family portrait of the Diosos from 1953, from left: Maria, Rosario, Leo, Tita, Leocadio Sr. Front: Jose (Joe) (Courtesy of Dioso family)

"Whenever news broke ... the vast Newsweek apparatus would thrum to life. Reporting would flow into Manhattan from dozens of bureaus around the world; writers would hammer it into shape. Editors would revise, art and photo would design and illustrate, researchers would check, makeup would arrange, copy would polish, and production would usher it all out the door, usually at warp speed. 

"[Writer-editor Peter] Goldman was not the exception; he was the rule. Culture editor Jack Kroll; graphics designer Karl Gude; production chief Ignacio Kleva; photo editor Guy Cooper; copy maven Tita Gillespie — each played the Team Game, as did thousands of others. Few got famous doing it."

While she wasn't famous, Tita was at the top of her profession as one of the best and most respected copy chiefs in the New York magazine world (and simultaneously an in-demand copy editor and proofreader for book publishers, a side career she maintained throughout her tenure at Newsweek and continued after retirement). The 200-plus-page style guide she wrote for Newsweek displays her expertise and sharp wit. For example: " 'How many angels can dance on the point [not the head] of a pin?' is the esoteric question said to have been argued by medieval theological hairsplitters. Anyone who now substitutes 'head' for ‘point' misses the point of the pointless debate and should go to the foot of the class."

Tita was a trailblazer for Asians in the media—and Filipinos in particular. In its June 2000 issue, Filipinas magazine gave Tita an Achievement Award for being the first Filipina to serve as Newsweek's general editor, noting "Gillespie belongs to a short list of top-caliber Filipino journalists who have increasing influence in the international print media." She took her role as a pioneer seriously, speaking about her experiences at seminars and mentoring several Asian American journalists, offering help and guidance to everyone from people she barely knew to a nephew who idolized her. 

While she wasn’t famous, Tita was at the top of her profession as one of the best and most respected copy chiefs in the New York magazine world.

Most of Tita's time at Newsweek coincided with the period when the magazine's influence on breaking news and directing the national—and international—conversation was its zenith. But by the time Tita retired in 2008, Newsweek was struggling for relevance in the Internet age, losing readers and advertising dollars and looking to cut staff. Like many journalists of her generation at the magazine, Tita took a buyout. 

In retirement, Tita and her husband moved to Crisfield, Maryland, a city on Chesapeake Bay famous for its seafood. Their goal was to eventually retire for good to Pandan, in the Philippine province of Antique, but various health issues the past few years delayed those plans. Tita's lone surviving sibling Leocadio F. Dioso, her older brother and my father, retired from the United Nations in 2001, and in 2004 founded the Leocadio Alonsagay Dioso Memorial Public Library in Pandan. (Their older sister Maria Dioso Manjon died in 1995. Their younger brother Jose Dioso died in 2000.) The last time my father saw Tita, a few months ago, he urged her to follow through on her dream to return to their hometown, where she could run the library with him, serving as its chief librarian. But it wasn't to be. 

From left: Brette, Tita, Rosario, Leocadio Jr. (Leo), Leo's wife Chiqui Liongson Dioso (Courtesy of Dioso family)

In addition to my uncle, my father and myself, Tita is survived by her nephews Lee Dioso, Michael Manjon and B.J. Manjon. Our family requests that well-wishers donate to the Philippine Red Cross for victims of Typhoon Pablo. Anyone wishing to donate to the Dioso Library can get more information from www.ladiosolibrary.org.

Author John Dioso  

Author John Dioso


John Dioso, a former managing editor for Rolling Stone, Martha Stewart Living, and Us Weekly, is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.