Commentary: My friend, Cicely Tyson

by E. Faye Williams

(TriceEdneyWirecom)—I often write when I’m in pain. The night Cicely Tyson left us was such a night. Since I’m remodeling my home, I had just discussed putting a television in “her room.” I call it her room, but she could sleep where she chose. She had the Delta Room on the top floor, the twin bed in the second-floor Library Room, and the big round chair on the Ground Level. She often walked to the first floor, stopped, and went to sleep.

She was an early riser and whenever I woke up, she was preparing breakfast. She loved my kitchen. She liked cooking and I rarely cooked!



I don’t know why she left us so soon. Several months ago, she attended the funeral of a mutual friend’s mother. After taking an early train from NY, she was so tired that, when we got to the church, I had to prop her up during the service. She was the picture of health and told me she was sleeping “under the mattress” to stay away from COVID 19! She let me persuade her to prepare her Will when no one else could. When she traveled, she would call and ask me to make changes—just in case!

We frequently collaborated on her speeches while travelling to where she was to speak. She needed little notice to know what she was going to say, but she often wanted me to put it together for her. Her favorite topic was “Keep Your Hand on the Plow.” She was a stickler for grammar, but that never bothered me. She had once been a secretary and I had been an English teacher. We worked together fine.

We shopped for healthy food. She loved going to Target. She assumed she wouldn’t be recognized and could shop undisturbed. She bought things like paper clips, staples, tablets, pretty writing paper—you know, just like we ordinary people do!

During her last visit, she had just made the cover of Time Magazine and, as expected, received numerous congratulatory calls from other celebrities. Viola Davis, Tyler Perry, and Ava DuVernay called to congratulate her. Since she called many of them from my phone, I had a chance to answer when they called back! The Time cover was not her only cover, she made many others, including Vogue. She made Vanity Fair sitting in her late Mother’s church.

Shortly before she left us, she did an interview with Bon Appetit Magazine. She was asked about hosting a special dinner and who would be invited. I was on her list! Each guest was to be asked to tell her a fact no one else knew. I can’t imagine how I would have responded because we had already talked about everything!

When President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she camped out at my place, along with her hairdresser, make-up artist, dress designer and others she needed for her big day. As I walked downstairs in my red dress she exclaimed, “You can’t wear that!” I didn’t know she planned to wear red, so I yielded and put on blue! Diana Ross, Bill and Melinda Gates, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ellen, and others were there to receive medals—but she was the star!

We laughed a lot together. I’ll never forget a day that we were walking back home when a woman walked up. She stopped right in front of us and said, “You look just like Ms. Tyson.” Cicely said, “People often tell me that.” The woman shook her head and walked on, then came back and asked, “Is you huh?” It was so funny that we laughed all the way home. I’ll miss her so much, but I have so many wonderful memories of her that I’ll never forget.

(E. Faye Williams is President of the National Congress of Black Women)


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