x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

‘I can’t forever be there for you’ - murder victim's message to children

Oldest son tells how Lorna Lim Varona, strong and disciplined, prepared her four children for a life without her to guide them.

Sons Joseph Luke and Joseph Louis, Pablo Varona and his wife Lorna, and one of two daughters, Maria Lourdes.
Sons Joseph Luke and Joseph Louis, Pablo Varona and his wife Lorna, and one of two daughters, Maria Lourdes.

Lorna Lim Varona, the Filipino businesswoman and mother of four who was brutally murdered a little more than a week ago, had prepared her four children to cope with anything life could throw at them, her eldest son said yesterday.

Speaking publicly for the first time since his mother’s body was found stuffed into a bag in the boot of her car in Sharjah, Joseph Luke, 27, said she had told her children to work hard and be independent because “I can’t forever be there for you when you need me”.

Mrs Varona, 51, was found murdered on Friday, nearly a week after being reported missing. She had been stabbed at least six times.

Speaking from Manila, Joseph Luke said his mother was a disciplinarian who taught her four children the value of money.

“She was strict but I think she just wanted to prepare us for life, for something like this,” he said.

His father Pablo, 65, broke the news of Mrs Varona’s death to Joseph Luke and his brother Joseph Louis, 26, on Sunday afternoon.

“It was gut-wrenching,” said Joseph Luke. “The feeling we had then was more of grief for losing her, but we’re trying to move on and celebrate her life.”

He said their mother was a strong person who stood up for what she believed in. “She believed that there was a solution to every problem. As a mum she was strict but always reassuring,” he said.

“She pushed us to achieve all that we have right now, and never let us settle for anything less than what we deserve.”

Mrs Varona was a good businesswoman who helped many Filipinos and people of other nationalities in the UAE, he said. “She was very compassionate to others in need and would always try to help out, even if she had to sacrifice time or effort.”

In 1996 the Varonas sent their children – Maria Lourdes, now 29, Joseph Luke, Joseph Louis and Maria Liza, 24 – to school in Manila.

“She wanted to instil pride in our Filipino roots,” Joseph Luke said.

The Varonas resisted the urge, common among overseas parents, to spoil their children to compensate for being away.

“She was very prudent with the family’s finances,” Joseph Luke said. “When it comes to our allowance, she would give us a little less than what we wanted.”

The parents called and visited their children in Manila regularly, despite the demands of Mrs Varona’s businesses in Dubai.

“She was strict with us but after scolding us, she would ask, ‘How are you there? Are you OK?’ She expected a lot from us and we tried our best to meet her expectations,” Joseph Luke said.

And the children did not disappoint: both sons have followed their father into electrical and mechanical engineering. Joseph Luke is a property manager and chief engineer who also handles his mother’s property leasing and other investments in the Philippines, while Joseph Louis is a manager at a company that provides energy management and sustainability services.

Maria Lourdes, 29, is a manager at a call centre in Manila. She flew to Dubai on Thursday to help in the search for her mother.

Maria Liza has been helping her mother run the businesses in Dubai and is seen as her successor.

“The initial plan was for us to get some experience here in the Philippines, build our careers and later return to the UAE to broaden our horizons,” Joseph Luke said. “For now, everything is up for debate. We’re still discussing our plans with the rest of the family members.”

He had wanted to fly to Dubai with Joseph Louis on Monday night, but it was decided he should stay in the Philippines to make funeral arrangements. The wake is likely to be held at La Funeraria Paz and the burial at the Manila Memorial Park in Paranaque City, Metro Manila.

That will have to wait, however, until the police have concluded their investigation and released Mrs Varona’s body.

Until then, the family have their memories. “I was in Dubai last December and we spent New Year together and her birthday on January 2,” said Joseph Luke. “It was fun and memorable. She was the perfect mum for us. This has truly been devastating for the family but we will pick ourselves up, the way that she has always taught us to.”

rruiz@thenational.ae