Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Wangari Maathai

She was one of the great ones, a giant sequoia in the forest of humanity. I was there to bear witness the day she received the Nobel Peace Prize. An interview we did turned into an extended conversation, and before the day was done, we became sister friends. From that day on, I stood in awe of her vision, wisdom and courage to see the connection between poverty and our natural environment. She understood that environment, governance and human rights are linked indivisibly.

She was a peaceful warrior who used her voice for the voiceless — particularly rural women whom she mobilized by the thousands to plant millions of trees through her Kenya-based NGO, the Green Belt Movement. She knew that trees are the lungs of our world, and if the lungs can't survive, we don't either.

I mourn her loss: her radiant smile and her very presence enveloped you with warmth and assurance. She was a hero. A champion. She loved the earth and wanted us all to know we have a stake in preserving and protecting nature.

Winfrey is the chairwoman and CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network