Cecilia de las Mercedes Duran de Villaveces died peacefully at home Friday, August 24th, after several years of a debilitating illness.
Mrs. Villaveces was in every respect a remarkable person. A lady of great character, strength, natural beauty, determination and persistence, she was born March 30, 1938 in Caqueta, in the jungle of the Amazonas territory, to a Bogotá, Colombia family that had been prominent for many generations in old Gran Colombia, a region that in the 19th century encompassed much of northern South America and parts of southern Central America.
Her father was Jorge Duran Duran, and her mother was born Julia Mora Saldana. Cecilia Villaveces was the great-granddaughter of Jose Hilario Lopez Valdez, who was President of Colombia from 1849 until 1853. Among other epithets, President Lopez, because of his emancipation of the slaves, has been called “the Abraham Lincoln of Colombia.”
Though Miss Duran loved the wildness of the Amazonas region of her childhood, she was sent to convent schools in Bogotá through her graduation and introduction to society.
In December of 1956 Miss Duran married Alvaro Villaveces-Paris. The couple settled in a northeastern part of the country in the Aracataca region, where, after years of hard work, they created a successful farming enterprise of cotton, rice, cattle and palm oil. Later, the couple lived in Barranquilla in north coastal Colombia on the Caribbean Sea.
In the early 1980s, Mr. and Mrs. Villaveces, under threats from newly arrived drug lords to their lives of those of their children, relocated permanently to the United States, first to Athens then to Florida and later back to Athens, where Mr. Villaveces died in 1991.
Besides her two sisters, Magdalena Duran de Serpa of Bogotá and Clarita Duran de Espinoza of Chia, Mrs. Villaveces is survived by her five sons; Alvaro Villaveces of Bogart; Jorge Ignacio Villaveces of Fayetteville, North Carolina; Juan Carlos Villaveces of Athens; and twins Enrique Villaveces of Athens and Eduardo Villaveces of Waynesville, North Carolina; along with their wives; her nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
It is rare that a person can move to a new city in her middle age and still have time to become a local legend. Cecilia Villaveces did just this.
Soon after she was widowed, she recalled the delicious cakes that cooks in her childhood home produced. Through questioning her Colombian relatives – and a good deal of experimentation – Mrs. Villaveces found that she could replicate these delicacies from her youth. She once said, “I had no idea how hard I could work – until I really had to!” And that she did.
Within a few years, this once pampered heiress had built Cecilia’s Cakes into an Athens and a Georgia and a southern institution. Using her bubbling creativity, flawless sense of style and boundless energy, she created true cake masterpieces – from a perfectly proportioned Italian villa in Macon to our state capitol to a huge armadillo so life-like that Lee Epting said partiers wondered who would bite whom first! Surely, these marvels in flour and sugar would have astounded those old cooks back in Bogotá.
Mrs. Villaveces was a woman of the world. She was just as at home in Bogotá, Colombia or Madrid, Spain or Paris, France as she was in her Hill Street home in Athens, Georgia. She declared that she intended to be a “learner my whole life,” which she was, and, as such, she was a voracious reader, a constant and fascinated observer of human nature and a delightful – and formidable – conversationalist.
Among other subjects, she became deeply knowledgeable about pre-Colombian antiquities and artifacts, many examples of which she unearthed personally on family lands in Colombia.
A funeral mass was held at The Catholic Center on Lumpkin Street at noon, Sunday, August 26th. Following this was a visit to the Piedmont Park, at Hill and Church streets, in part to view the Four Seasons mosaic that Mrs. Villaveces designed, cut and assembled by hand. The large, Roman-inspired mosaic, a generous gift from the artist to the community, was installed in this new neighborhood park in 2009. Afterwards, friends were invited to walk up Hill Street to the former Villaveces residence for refreshments and fellowship and some words of remembrance.
The night before, at the end of this year’s Cobbham Summer Festival, luminaries on Cobb Street were lit in honor of such a wonderful neighbor just lost. Cecilia Villaveces enjoyed a remarkably wide variety of friends and admirers.
The family wishes to give great and heartfelt thanks to the citizens of their mother’s adopted Athens -- for so many kindnesses, as well as for having supported over the years the business which their mother built and of which she was so proud. Athenians welcomed Cecilia Villaveces into their realm, with the sort of friendship, love and support that made Athens become what this great lady once called “my real home.”