“Delighted” Kiwi lawyer receives Mexico’s highest honour for foreigners

by Sophie Schroder04 Jul 2014
Auckland lawyer and Lowndes Associates consultant Denis McNamara has received the highest decoration awarded to foreigners in Mexico.

McNamara, who has been the honorary consul for Mexico in Auckland since 2001, was confused when he got a phone call from the Mexican ambassador the night before a trip he was making to Mexico City telling him he was set to be “consecrated”.

“It gave me a bit of a fright because I thought you had to be dead for that – but the word she was looking for was ‘con-decorated’,” he laughs.

McNamara had been selected along with five other foreign representatives to receive the Orden Mexicana del Aguila Azteca (the Order of the Aztec Eagle).

Past New Zealand recipients, who include former Prime Minister Helen Clark, are few and far between: The lawyer jokes to NZ Lawyer that he is “the first ordinary person” to receive it.

He met the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto during the one-on-one ceremony - a man he describes as “very charismatic” and who spoke of wanting to visit Down Under.

It was McNamara’s fourth trip to Mexico, although it was the first in an official capacity, and as far as he knew before the news of the award the sole reason for the trip was for a delegation in Mexico City.

McNamara says he was shocked and blown away to discover the high honour of a title such as the Order of the Aztec Eagle.

“I haven’t done anything other than what you would expect an ordinary person to do… I think within the Mexican community people knowing I’ve got the award are suitably impressed. I’m very humbled by it – I’m delighted,” he says. “An award like this given by a country the size of Mexico when you compare it to New Zealand – it’s kind of mind blowing isn’t it.”

But despite the protestations of normalcy, Rodrigo Azaola the consul to the Mexican Embassy in Wellington, has a different story.

He told NZ Lawyer that McNamara far surpasses the duties required of an honorary consul and is highly respected within Auckland’s large Mexican community.

As well as representing the consulate for almost 13 years and helping the Mexican community in Auckland on a daily basis with questions or concerns about paperwork, visas and passports, Azaola says that off his own back McNamara organises community events such as a celebration of Mexican’s Independence day, commemorated on September 15 each year.

He also makes Mexican delegates - which can include high profile government representatives - feel at home here, and does a great job of promoting culture and tourism between the two countries.

“Another important consideration, and one that I’m personally grateful for, is the sorrowful situations where Mexicans are involved in emergencies and I know I can count on him,” Azaola says. “[I could] call him at three in the morning on a working day, which has happened before…he goes the extra mile.”

This has extended to the lawyer helping Mexican citizens through high profile tragedies in other parts of the pacific as well, including Tokelau and the Marshall Islands.

McNamara admits that the human side of the job in supporting people to deal with tragedies is tough.

“I’ve been involved with a number of tragedies. Being in New Zealand from Mexico if you’re on your own and someone has died it can be a very lonely place,” he says.

The embassy’s Azaola says the importance of the award can’t be overlooked.

“We’re very happy. It’s an award not only for him, but for us and the Mexican community in New Zealand.”

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