"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."
2 Timothy 4:7-8
Iconic actor and advocate Cicely Tyson fought her whole life for Black Americans to be respected in Hollywood, the theater, and life in general. Two years ago, Cicely Tyson strolled through the Ritz Carlton in Naples Florida to receive an award during our Odyssey Network Business Retreat’s 20th Anniversary. She was 94 at the time with a pep in her step and a smile that warmed the room. Her skin glowed from her strict routine of consuming daily fresh-squeezed vegetable juice, especially her favorite, celery juice.
I had only known her for 2 years, but it felt like a lifetime. She had a magical way of connecting with people and making everyone she knew feel special. In addition to her daughter, she had an extended family of friends and colleagues who loved her unconditionally. She collected people along the way and you were happy to be selected no matter when you entered her life.
She could hang, and it took a whole bunch of folk to keep up with her. Fashion icon B. Michael accompanied her everywhere, which gave her the freedom to travel safely, speak at public events, and enjoy life. When you entered her world, you understood as I did, she had mastered the art of authentic friendships. A band of angels surrounded her, from the quiet doer Tyler Perry who loved and respected her talent, to her beloved Susan Fales Hill, and everyday buddies like Sandra Parks and Alexander Smalls. Then there were her girls, as she affectionately called them, Tanya Lombard and Minyon Moore, who were always ready to tee up her next adventure.
My daughter Alexandra met her before I did. A friend took our daughters to see Misty Copeland. When my daughter returned home she said it was fun and there was a lady with them. “Who?”, I asked. I think her name was Ms. Tyson and everybody kept coming up to her. As any mother would, I nervously asked a flurry of questions, “What did you say? How did you sit? Did you say please and thank you?”
My child stopped me cold, “Mommy, she was not like that. She was so nice and she was really interested in me and we had a great conversation.” Wow, leave it to the children to go straight to the truth. This was Cicely Tyson in a nutshell, she could effortlessly converse with a 13-year-old girl, a CEO, and then channel Jane Pittman, Coretta Scott King, or Harriet Tubman on screen at the drop of a dime. She put everyone at ease.
She loved the Odyssey Network Business Retreat and stayed longer than anticipated, chatted up the audience, walked the beach, and wanted to understand the new titles Black women held in corporate America. “What do they all do?” she asked me. Her favorite time at Odyssey was the Prudential theme night and the AT&T Gospel sendoff. She reveled in sisterhood, creativity, and the ability to hang with women who had careers that did not exist when she was breaking barriers. She immediately decided that she wanted her own theme dinner for her 95th birthday. “Everyone keeps asking me what I want; this is what I want,” she said bubbling with excitement.
A month after the event she called to invite me to speak at the Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange, New Jersey. She said, “I told them you would be happy to do the commencement speech.” Of course, I had a major conflict. But really, who can say no to Ms. Tyson? I cleared my day, spoke at her school and the beaming smile she gave me still flashes through my mind.
COVID-19 struck and I never had another opportunity to hang out or have lunch in person with her. Two weeks ago she spoke at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and was interviewed by Gayle King. My team and I were discussing how to help launch her book, Just As I Am, at our next event. Then two days after the release date, she passed away.
Michelle Obama wrote about her grace and beauty, Tyler Perry wrote about her being the grandmother he never had, President Obama awarded her the medal of freedom in 2016 and wrote about her trailblazing career of breaking barriers and crushing stereotypes. She received an Honorary Oscar, several Emmys, a Peabody Award, and countless other accolades.
I write today to pay tribute to her as proof that you can make new friends at any age, you should never stop learning, always treat your body as a temple, and courage is not something you seek, it is what you do.
I and the entire Odyssey Family will miss you, Ms. Tyson. Your righteous crown awaits you.
Click here to share your favorite moments of Cicely Tyson at Odyssey Network 2019.