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Athens, Ga., Loses Cecilia Villaveces To Debilitating Illness

She was known and loved for her cakes, her conversation and her character.

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

Meg Dure August 26, 2012 at 03:26 PM
A lovely tribute Milton to a remarkable and lovely lady.
Pat McAlexander August 26, 2012 at 06:25 PM
I agree. She always had such wise and interesting insights in our book club. She will be missed!!
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) August 27, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Leon, me, too. Ditto on the Milton thing.
Conoly Hester August 27, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Great Story Milton, about a beautiful lady. One of the special people who make this community unique. And her cakes took local baking to a wonderful new level!
karen sevenoff August 27, 2012 at 03:04 AM
GodBless Cecelia! I will remember her always with much love and admiration..
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) August 27, 2012 at 09:47 AM
Karen, I'm sure her wonderful family appreciates your saying that. Thank you for sharing.
Martha Diaz August 27, 2012 at 11:51 AM
My parents have known her for years. Her twins went to HS with my older brothers (the same HS I went to before moving to Athens) in Barranquilla, Colombia. She was very loved and will be missed.
Nancy Bowen August 27, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Milton, what a beautifully written tribute to an elegant and grand lady. Thank you.
Kellie Sappington August 27, 2012 at 02:00 PM
I only knew her as a local baking legend and I had the privledge of meeting her once when she baked my beautiful wedding cake. Even ten years later, guests still comment on how beautiful and tasty it was. I had no idea what an extraordinary person she truly was. Athens will miss her dearly.
Cindy Karp August 27, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Cecilia was a pastry chef legend and I can certainly attribute a few pounds to her. I taught her children Art and Photography in Barranguilla at the the Collegio Karl Parrish in 1975. That's how far back we go. She and her savory treats will be missed. Cindy Karp
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) August 27, 2012 at 05:56 PM
Lucky you to have had such a cake, Kellie! thanks for sharing.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) August 27, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Cindy, thanks for sharing that. Cecilia was someone who kept her friends, wasn't she? I'm sorry we won't get to enjoy her any more. She was a wonderful person.
Carolyn Holmes August 28, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Thanks for this lovely remembrance. We will miss Cecilia at our knitting group as well. Truly she was a fascinating and accomplished woman.
Magdalena Williams August 28, 2012 at 05:10 PM
I met Cecilia sixteen years ago when I first moved to Athens. We shared a true connection, being women from different parts of the world. She was one of my first friends in Athens and always remained dear to my heart. She was such an inspiration to me as a strong, independent woman. Cecilia was truly one of the classiest woman I have had the priveledge of knowing. She will always have a piece of my heart.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) August 28, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Milton was sweet enough to write this obit. He got to enjoy her for years as a neighbor and as a friend. I'm sure she was an expert knitter.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) August 28, 2012 at 05:12 PM
I'm sorry for your loss. Knowing her slightly, I know she had a wide circle of friends who adored and enjoyed her. It's such a loss to Athens and her family and friends.
Christopher Villaveces August 29, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Thank you for this lovely, gratious piece of written work. She was a woman of beauty, grace, and strength. I remember every morning as a child the first thing that would be required before anything else in the day was to go down to the bakery and give Cecilia a kiss as she handed a piece of red velvet with a glass of milk. A determined mother, adventurer, hard-worker, and in my case... grandmother... More people are needed with such core values and core strengths. A woman who influenced every bit of learning to add sense of culture and history to your life. Thank you everyone for your thoughts... Athens will always have it's Artist in our hearts, our tastebuds, and in the land of the community.
Juan Carlos Villaveces Duran August 30, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Thank you Karen. Hope you are well. Miss you.
Juan Carlos Villaveces Duran August 30, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Hey Martha. I knew your family there and you father here in Athens. I was classmates with George(who I beleive was born here in Athens) and I knew Arthur and Billy. Thank you for your kind words.
Juan Carlos Villaveces Duran August 30, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Thank you for your kind words Magdalena. My mom really liked you and felt a deep friendship with you. you were always so kind and accomodating with her. We spoke of you in the past months and we went to see you not long ago for some flowers- when everyone else was closed. My mother says thank you and sends her love.
Juan Carlos Villaveces Duran August 30, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Thank you. Mom loved sewing, knitting, and anyhting involving creativity and the use of her hands. Not long ago we were looking at some of the cross-stitch we did together.She had converted my older brothers's room into a sewing room (which served as pastry room for it had the best AC in the house). she loved to sew clothes for us and herself- she was a Burda fan.
Juan Carlos Villaveces Duran August 30, 2012 at 06:23 PM
One of the things she didnt like about getting old was her inabilty to keep reading. Her mother had instilled in her the love of books and reading. Both of them endured long years of isolation were books saved and kept her sane. She enjoyed your group very much and I had a long history of talking about what we were reading with her. She send her thanks and appreciation and her love for you and the group.
Rita M. Rivera September 02, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Though I didn't have the pleasure of knowing Cecilia, I have a very dear friend in her sister, Magdalena, since 1969. I hold this whole family in very high esteem. There is no doubt that our Good Lord is holding Cecilia in His arms. God Bless. Rita M. Rivera, retired in Costa Rica.

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