Yesterday afternoon we went to a memorial gathering for Rafa, held in the gorgeous garden he built for one of his clients. I would guess there were 200 people there ~ family, friends, colleagues, clients, young, old, kids, and Wilson, the dog. It was a tremendous outpouring of affection and admiration for this remarkable fellow. Fabulous b-b-q, paella, all sorts of hot and spicy things to eat, lots of icy cold beer to wash it down. Three walls of a converted 3-car garage were covered with photos of Rafa and with "Rafaisms", that peculiar blend of English and Spanish that was his hallmark. "It OK pero I make it better" or "I no go porque I too beesy" or "My wallet is broken" and so on. Great pictures of him with his delightful wife Dorothy and their two daughters, one of whom is to be married in two weeks, sadly without her father present. Although you don't know him, I think the piece below, written by the family for the guests, captures him perfectly. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him. A very good man gone way before his time.
Jose Rafael Araya Mora passed away on August 9, 2012 at the age of 54 due to complications from a stroke that left him in the hospital for three weeks. When it became clear there was no hope for recovery, we brought him home to spend his last days with us.
Rafa, as he was known to most, was born on May 15, 1958 in San Isidro, San Jose, Costa Rica. A former Costa Rican professional soccer player, Rafa had a continued love of the game and played in adult outdoor and indoor recreational leagues after his professional soccer career. He traveled the world working on cruise liners which ultimately led him to Davis. He was a resident of Davis since 1986 and held dual residency in both countries for many years. He worked in landscape construction most of his time in Davis ~ first for Custom Landscaping and then on his own for the past 15 years. In recent years he had taken up cycling, and participated in annual races around Lake Tahoe. Most Sundays he rode from Davis to Fairfield and back, enjoying the other cyclists he met along the way.
Besides the beautiful gardens he created throughout Yolo County, he was known for his incredible cooking skills, enthusiastic Latin dancing, and ability to live each day to the fullest. It didn't matter that he didn't speak English well, somehow he didn't need language to make friends everywhere he went ~ whether they be his customers or complete strangers. Above all, he will be remembered for his incredible spirit of giving. He would give the shirt off his back, the food from his kitchen, and his energetic help without being asked. He lived by the "golden rule" every day of his life. He is an example for all of us. He knew how to LIVE. His passing has left a void in all of our lives that we can only fill by becoming more like him; kinder, more adventurous, more loving, harder working, harder playing, better eaters, and better friends. His legacy is in his friends and his gardens. He made Davis so much more beautiful, one garden at a time. This quote will always make us think of him, because he has truly left the world a better place by his presence in it:
'Everyone must leave something behind when he dies', my grandfather said. 'A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hands touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. It doesn't matter what you do,' he said, 'so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching', he said. '. . . the gardener will be there a lifetime.'
Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451