Mon, Jun 09, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Friends, family gather to honor Maya Angelou

‘NO MOURNING’:The iconic, sonorous-voiced poet, actress and writer died late last month after a multidimensional career that spanned decades

AP, WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina

Mourners leave Wait Chapel after the memorial service for Maya Angelou on Saturday at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Photo: Reuters

Maya Angelou liked to say that people will forget what you said or did in your life, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Former US president Bill Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey said on Saturday that they were among the millions touched by Angelou’s wisdom when they needed help to rise.

Family and friends gathered on Saturday to remember one of the 20th century’s most famous writers. Amid tears, laughter, and gospel singing, they met at Wake Forest University, where she taught for 32 years, though she never graduated from college.

Dr Angelou, as she liked to be addressed out of respect for her numerous honorary degrees, died on May 28 at age 86.

Hers was a remarkable life, linking the worlds of civil rights, poetry, acting and teaching, those at the private memorial service said.

“We could just all be up here talking about how Maya Angelou represented a big piece of American history. And triumphed over adversity. And proved how dumb racism is,” Clinton said. “But her great gift in her action-packed life was she was always paying attention. And from the time she started writing her books and her poetry, what she was basically doing was calling our attention to the things she’d been paying attention to.”

Obama added: “She told us that our worth has nothing to do with what the world might say. Instead, she said, each of us comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory. She reminded us that we must each find our own voice, decide our own value, and then announce it to the world with all the pride and joy that is our birthright as members of the human race.”

Tall and majestic, Angelou added heft to her spoken words with a deep and sonorous voice. She once described herself as a poet in love with “the music of language.” She recited the most popular presidential inaugural poem in US history, On the Pulse of Morning, when Clinton opened his first term in January 1993.

Winfrey said the close and constant friend she met before becoming a TV talk show host could shake her out of bouts of self-doubt. Angelou taught her to look beyond trouble and spot the rainbow in the clouds, Winfrey said.

“Maya Angelou is the greatest woman I have ever known,” Winfrey said, then almost sobbing: “She was my anchor. So it’s hard to describe to you what it means when your anchor shifts.”

Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St Louis and raised in Arkansas and San Francisco. Her life included writing poetry by age nine, giving birth as a single mother by 17 and becoming San Francisco’s first black streetcar conductor. She also danced at a strip joint, sang on records, acted alongside James Earl Jones and earned a Tony nomination for her work on Broadway. She wrote music and plays, received an Emmy nomination for her acting in the 1970s TV miniseries Roots and danced with Alvin Ailey.

Angelou also worked as a coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and lived for years in Ghana and Egypt, where she met South African liberation pioneer Nelson Mandela. In 1968, she was helping the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr organize the Poor People’s March in Memphis, Tennessee, where the civil rights leader was slain on Angelou’s 40th birthday.

Her son, Guy Johnson, said Angelou’s last decade was filled with pain — the toll of her career as a professional dancer and respiratory failure. Still, she was able to write four more books, had all of her mental faculties, and died quietly in her sleep.

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