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CHICAGO (JGL) – Despite the 65 years of separation from the first Miss Universe pageant in Long Beach, California, the former Miss Finland Armi Helena Kuusela has proven that age is just a

number as she keeps herself trim and poise thru all those years.

A relative of Ms. Kuusela, who wants to remain anonymous, provided this reporter several photos of Ms. Kuusela, who married his uncle, businessman Virgilio “Gil” Hilario that show that she has also closely bonded with her roots in the Philippines.

Shortly after winning the first Miss Universe pageant at Long Beach held on June 28, 1952, at the age of 17, as part of her prize, she took a journey around the world, including the Philippines. Her other prizes were a box of chocolates, a goldbangle, and a return ticket sponsored by Pan American Airways to the United States.

Photo of first Miss Universe Armi Helena Kuusela in Wikipedia. 

It was in March of 1953, when she met Mr. Hilario on a dance floor in Baguio City as part of the International Trade exposition. There, according to Philippine Star, Mr. Hilario, who was also a good dancer had so impressed the young beauty title holder, and was “swept off her feet.” The meeting led Mr. Hilario to start a whirlwind courtship that ended with their marriage in Tokyo, Japan on May 4, 1953, prompting her to cede her crown to her runner-up. Aside from being intelligent, well mannered and cultured, a Miss Universe titleholder must remain single to keep her crown.

Although born in Manila, Hilario’s roots are from Old Albay district in what is now part of Legazpi City in the Philippines.

According to The Victoria Advocate, “Virgilio said she had planned to go back to Finland to tell her parents of their planned wedding – on her birthday on Aug. 27.” (Wikipedia lists Kuusela's birthday as Aug. 20, 1934.)


But she changed her mind when “on the wee hours of May 3, Gil was involved in a scuffle when he defended Armi from a drunken American newspaperman who tried to harass Armi inside the Cosmopolitan Nightclub,” according to the Star.

Photo of first Miss Universe Armi Helena Kuusela with Filipino husband, Virgilio “Gil” Hilario. Armi Kuusela (inset) is shown when she won the Miss Universe. (JGL Photo used with permission c/o Marlon L. Pecson)  

The Advocate said, “The bride’s eyes were soft and moist; the bridegroom had a shiner (a black eye).

“She is Armi Kuusela – proclaimed the most beautiful woman in the world when crowned Miss Universe last year. She hails from Finland.

“He is Virgilio Hilario from torrid Philippines, possessor of plenty of pesos and a black eye he got in a fight the other night.

“They were married in a little Tokyo church last night and only three people went to their wedding.

“They wanted it that way because Virgilio was a little shy about that shiner.

First Miss Universe Armi Helena Kuusela with her nephew, Steven Hilario, who is now based in Hongkong. (JGL Photo used with permission c/o Marlon L. Pecson) 

“She’s wonderful!” the 25-year-old millionaire Filipino beamed at his swank Imperial Hotel suite today during a brief honeymoon in this land of cherry blossoms.

“The happy bride beamed, too. She had a message from her mother in Finland wishing her happiness.”

Wikipedia said, the couple honeymooned in Hawaiian Islands, toured the United States and then, Europe, before settling in Manila, where they had five children.

  • Arne Hilario, married with 3 children, lives in Chile;
  • Anna-Lisa De Gari, married with 2 children, lives in Spain;
  • Jussi Hilario, married, lives in Canada;
  • Eva-Maria Hess, married with 2 children, lives in United States; and 
    Mikko Hilario, lives in the Philippines.


Kuusela briefly managed several apartments in Metro Manila, one of them being the (now-demolished) Gilarme Apartments and Suites in Makati, where she and Hilario lived before moving to the exclusive community of Forbes Park. Their house was on a road informally known as "Millionaire Street". She was also in one film in the Philippines around this time.

Hilario died of a heart attack on September 7, 1975, and Kuusela remarried to American diplomat Albert Williams on June 8, 1978. The couple moved to Barcelona, Spain then to Izmir, Turkey, before settling in La Jolla, a community in San Diego, California. As of 2011, she and her husband were still living there.

In 2012, Armi was awarded the Order of the White Rose of Finland.

Armi visited her native town of Muhos, located in northern Finland, in August 2014. Her visit was an official meeting with the city municipal manager.

Kuusela is still active in her community, participating in charities and involved in cancer research at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.

Marlon L. Pecson, a high school classmate of Armi’s nephew who is now based in Hongkong, said, “Perhaps, Armi’s active participation in charities and in cancer research and her being grounded in keeping her roots in Finland and the Philippines keep her young and restless.”

When Mr. Pecson asked his classmate if the Philippine Department of Tourism and Miss Universe Organization, principal organizers of the Miss Universe in the Philippines, would invite her aunt, who has been leading a reclusive life, to attend the Miss Universe pageant as guest on Jan. 29 (Sunday at 8 p.m. Central Time or Monday Jan. 30 at 10 a.m.), his classmate demurred, saying, “Let me know first if there is an invitation before I can answer your question.” (Contact reporter: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


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