I think every life lived is shaped by the people encountered and Rafael del Villar Sr. was one of the most important people I have ever met. Beneath that jovial mask he liked to wear as frequently as possible, and which came with his profession, there was an often (very) serious man with a truckload-full of advice for a young man like me beneath, and when we had the chance to talk in private, moments Rafael del Villar made sure we had plenty of, I was often privy to that change from easy-going to thoughtful and fatherly.
Rafael del Villar was the Mexican Ambassador to Denmark and I first met him when I dropped by to pick up B., his daughter. B. made me wait a customary 15 minutes because, well, it was the thing to do to make men wait, and in the meantime her father invited me for a Gin & Tonic (already a super-huge plus in my book). It quickly became apparent that he was testing me, trying to assess if he could entrust his daughter to me for the evening. About ten sweat-inducing minutes later, it also became quickly apparent that he thought he could and, a second after that decision, he changed into his relaxed self.
If I may be allowed to jump wildly about my timeline for a minute, I had the chance to not only meet him numerous times in Copenhagen, Denmark, but also on two marvelous extended trips my family took across Mexico, both of which he graciously helped us plan and pull off at that time.
I don’t want to go into too many details here, but throughout the many meetings we had, brief or for weeks on end, he always made sure to set aside time to have one, three, five or more talks with me. For example, in Mexico City when the two families took a longer walk towards an infamous Tequila bar, he would give me a quick tug and signal me to hang back with him to talk; in Acapulco, where I celebrated one of the best birthdays of my life, he quietly asked me to step aside and follow him into the “off”, … for a very stiff Rum Punch and a talk. At a New Year’s Eve party at his residence in Copenhagen, the party in absolutely full swing, he pretended to have to get another crate of champagne and asked me to accompany him to the kitchen where he poured us both a glass and talked to me for a while. In Manzanillo, Mexico, we strolled across the burning hot beach and … talked. Here and there, again and again, he had a knack for inconspicuously pulling me aside to give me some advice, simply talk about life and the universe … and to accompany all of that with one of my very favorite drinks, whatever they happened to be at the time. He was a master at doing that kind of stuff.
In those talks, he, without fail, switched from his animated public self to the tender and at times introspective persona, dropping the pose to reveal the fatherly friend. I am hugely indebted to him for the many things he told me and the serious and well-thought out advice he had to offer, all of which I still carry around with myself today. In fact, an important part of my being was influenced by him.
I have no idea what he was like to his family and everyone else and I am aware of the fact that he could be quite the authoritarian figure, but to me, he was both a role model to follow, a huge influence … and a friend.
It is one of the sad aspects of my life that after my parents had left South-America, I did not have a chance to say thank you to him for being such an important person in my life. Rafael del Villar Sr. faded into that foggy murkiness that is my past, but he remains one of the brightest lights within it.