By MICHAEL OLDHAM | Contributing Writer
At the dinner table in a Pacific Palisades home on the evening of June 16, 1979, an inspirational happening took place: The meal was hosted by a local Los Angeles journalist and his wife. A few friends were over to enjoy food and conversation.
But one of the guests needed something, perhaps not even knowing it. What Richard Walden needed was confirmation of his inspiration.
One of the dinner guests would offer it to Walden. She was Maya Angelou, the poet.
Walden explained to the Palisadian-Post that while he had “talked through dinner,” Angelou, who by then had spent some years living in a townhouse in The Highlands, had been “calm, quiet and reflective.”
And as a self-professed “typically hyper” talker, Walden told the dinner table about a strange experience that happened to him earlier in the day. Angelou was among the listeners while he spoke of being on a slice of Venice Beach, reading a newspaper about some refugees stuck in South East Asia and in need of humanitarian aid. Surrounded by sand, an idea to help the refugees struck him.
Despite the mostly sunny day and mild temperatures he was enjoying while trading glances from the newspaper to the sand and to the summer beach waters, the idea to do his part to help the refugees hit Walden like a lightning bolt, he said.
Walden raced home and placed a few phone calls. A few miraculous landline phone connections later, he was able to arrange a near-future plane flight of supplies to the desperate refugees he had read about hours earlier on the beach sands.
When he finished telling his story about arranging the all-but-impossible relief flight to aid the refugees, Angelou addressed him. She firmly told Walden this miraculous aid action he pulled off was “a sign and you must follow it.”
Walden followed Angelou’s advice: “Eighteen years and 100 countries later, our Operation California—now OperationUSA—won a share of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize,” he shared.
Today on the OperationUSA website, Walden states, “I will always fondly remember Maya Angelou and her inspiration during OpUSA’s earliest days.”
It was also at a private dinner some nine years earlier Angelou propelled herself to fame and fortune.
In 1968, while attending a dinner party, Angelou was challenged by a book publishing editor to pen her first autobiography. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was published in 1969 and with it came international recognition.
The books of Angelou offered her a cure for a condition she believed in avoiding.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,” she once was quoted.
In 1974, Angelou, who besides being an acclaimed writer, was a civil rights activist that worked with Martin Luther King Jr., married Paul Du Feu, a Welsh carpenter. It was her second and last marriage.
By the late-1970s, Angelou, born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1928, purchased a 2,400-square-foot townhouse on Michael Lane in the Palisades.
Angelou, who in 1977 acted in a supporting role in the television mini-series “Roots,” once wrote about the purchase of her three-bedroom residence in her book “Even the Stars Look Lonesome.”
“After several years of rapturous married life, we moved to Pacific Palisades, into a futuristic condo that had thrust its living room out over the California canyon with a daring and an insouciance usually to be found only in a practiced drunk pretending sobriety,” she shared.
The townhouse, built in 1977, had a living room that featured a canyon rim view. Angelou placed large paintings on its walls. And, Angelou, who added inspirational speaker to her resume, also laid down Indian and Pakistani rugs on the floor over the carpet.
For Angelou, who, as a young adult, worked such odd jobs as fry cook and nightclub dancer to make ends meet, the move represented a big step up in housing life. However, the luxurious Palisades townhouse was not a good move for her marriage.
“There,” she wrote about her stay on Michael Lane, “in that very expensive and posh settlement, my marriage began to flounder.”
Angelou told of the townhouse having everything all built in to it. And this left nothing for her “builder” husband to do.
So, Angelou and Du Feu decided to move away to the Bay Area. This would be sometime between the late 1970s and their eventual divorce in 1981.
After their split, Angelou settled in North Carolina.
And, like what Walden experienced, Angelou has, through her poetry, autobiographical stories and famous quotations, allowed hope and a heaping share of inspiration for all who have read her words.
Today Angelou, who died in May 2014, is regularly quoted in print. She is known for her quotations such as “Nothing will work unless you do” or “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”
Michael Oldham, is the author of the novel “The Valentino Formula” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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