Celebrity and cause célèbre, poet, civil-rights activist, singer, playwright, actor, children's author, professor, recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees, American icon, national treasure, grandmother and great-grandmother, Maya Angelou died on the morning of May 28, 2014 at the age of 86.
A public memorial service honoring Angelou was held on May 29, 2014 at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, where she had been a member for 30 years. On June 7th, tributes to Angelou and condolences were paid by celebrities and world leaders, including Hillary and President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama, whose sister was named after Angelou
Maya Angelou took her role as grandmother and great-grandmother as seriously as everything else in her life. Her son, Clyde, born shortly after Angelou’s high school graduation, changed his name to Guy Johnson and is father to Colin Ashanti Murphy-Johnson, 38, and Elliott Jones, 28. Angelou was also a great grandmother -- Colin has two children, Caylin Nicole Johnson, 17, and Brandon Bailey Johnson, 15.
In a 2008 interview, Maya Angelou was quoted as saying, "I loved my grandmother." She and her brother, abandoned by their parents when they were 3 and 5, were raised by her grandparents. She came to know her grandmother intimately.
Angelou attributed her own grandparenting style to what she’d experienced from her own grandmother. "My grandmother was the best. She didn't talk much. She spoke very softly when she did, although she had truly a huge voice; when she sang in church the windows would rattle."
As a proud grandmother, Angelou felt it important to neither criticize nor interfere with her children’s parenting. It was her opinion that as long as the parenting was fair, she stayed out of their “business”. There’s a lesson to be learned here.
Like any good grandmother, Angelou often expressed her love through cooking for her family and considered herself a serious cook. She even wrote a cookbook, Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes (Random House). Her signature dish? Fried chicken. “My son and grandson say that if I only whisper fried chicken they come out of the walls.”
Another of Angelou’s favorite things to do was to entertain her grandchildren and great-grandchildren with jokes, stories and songs, deliberately mispronouncing words just to amuse them.
When asked what qualities her grandchildren possessed, she said, “I am happy to say all of them are kind. It's very important to me that people are kind. If you have any luck at all, you'll have a job and make some money. You can easily become slobbish and stupid. If they weren't kind, they could easily think they were entitled.” Angelou led by example and from lessons she taught them by doing things together, they have in their own right become charitable, kind people as well, donating their time, from painting a women’s safe houses to serving on Christmas Day.
Maya Angelou's life was indeed extraordinary and her sweet-as-molasses voice will surely be missed by all.
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