After a Formula One driver's tragic death, her family honors her memory by helping those in need.
“I will not abandon those who now cry out in silence for my help. Because not many hear them; I didn’t either, before.” These are words that Spanish Formula One driver Maria de Villota wrote after suffering an accident that almost ended her life. She wrote a book about how she approached her new circumstances, titled Life Is a Gift (“La vida es un regalo”).
She didn’t know then that she was going to die soon. Although she recovered partially from her 2012 accident at Duxford Aerodrome, she died the following year due to the long-term effects of her injuries. She was 33 years old.
In the meantime, she had married and had redirected her professional life towards solidarity work with the Ana Carolia Díez Mahou Foundation. (She was no longer able to drive a race car since she had lost one eye.) After her death, the Foundation, with the help of her family, established the “Legacy of María de Villota” initiative to disseminate the Formula One driver’s values and “continue her work of solidarity with people who are sick and with the groups most in need.”
Her father, dedicated to helping
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Villota family built the church of San Ramón Nonato, in the Madrid neighborhood of Vallecas, in memory of a child of the family who had died and had been named Ramón. Maria was buried there, together with her ancestors. Her father, the former Formula One driver Emilio de Villota, took over the work of her Legacy.
Then came 2020 and the pandemic, and hunger began to be felt in Vallecas. A recent article in Spanish news outlet La Razón by reporter Macarena Gutiérrez highlights the work of the organization in the Villota family’s home neighborhood.
Working through the parish
The Legacy of María de Villota was intended to serve the needs of many families. The parish priest of San Ramón asked the Villota family to set up a system to help people who have been left without work and without money for basic needs. The family agreed. Thus, La Razón explains, the priest gathered 50 volunteers who, from Monday to Friday, were in charge of distributing to families in need a bag with some sandwiches, fruit, and dairy products.
It soon became clear that this was not enough. Emilio de Villota expanded the organization with the distribution of hot food. For this purpose, an external catering service was hired. The volunteers also hand out some fresh groceries.
In total, Gutiérrez’s article reports, about 500 people of 23 nationalities are having their financial difficulties alleviated daily thanks to this work of solidarity. At the peak of the pandemic, according to Emilio, they reached 1,000 people daily, and now he believes that the number of requests is growing again.
“Any one of us could be in line for food.”
Emilio de Villota, who is 74 years old, puts all his energy into this work that appeared overnight. He goes to work wearing the vest of a volunteer. Before, the family’s charitable work mostly reached beggars and homeless people, but in 2020 the panorama of those in need is of a much greater dimension.
“We also see middle class people. Any one of us could be in line for food, if we run out of income for a while. Not to mention if it’s family that had no resources,” he explained to La Razón’s reporter, Macarena Gutiérrez..
For this father who lost his daughter far too soon, working with the Legacy of Maria at the church where she is buried does not stir up his feeling of loss: “Although it may seem a lie, my emotions are positive, not so much of nostalgia or sadness,” he says. Instead, he is able to honor the memory of his daughter through his charitable work, which directly affects so many people’s lives for the better.