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Dignitaries, MLB honor Angelou's memory at luncheon

HOUSTON -- If there was any question about how far-reaching Dr. Maya Angelou's impact on the fabric of America was throughout her life, just consider how many words, related or standing alone, would fittingly describe her.

Poet. Activist. Author. Actress. Leader. Philanthropist. Mother. Friend. Educator. Historian. Survivor.

It was entirely appropriate that Angelou was to receive the Beacon of Life Award at the Civil Rights Game luncheon in Houston on Friday, and extremely sad that she passed away just days before the event was to take place. Still, her presence was felt and acknowledged by all dignitaries in attendance, who lauded an extraordinary life filled with purpose and triumph.

"Her spirit embodies what this event aims to celebrate," Commissioner Bud Selig said. He then recited a recent quote from Angelou that was fitting for this setting: "You shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back."

"Dr. Angelou gave back by enlightening our world," Selig said.

Since her recent passing at the age of 86, Angelou has been remembered for her deep impact in many facets of life, and at the Beacon luncheon, she was lauded for her leadership while helping move the country forward in areas such as civil rights and activism. Dignitaries in town for the Civil Rights celebration -- those who knew her, and those who did not -- were looking forward to her presence at this landmark event.

"We had tried for three or four years to honor her," Hall of Famer and MLB executive Frank Robinson said. "We finally achieved that and we were excited about it. We were sad to see her health deteriorated and that she passed away. We will honor her today with a lot of pride and respect."

Angelou, sensing her health was declining in the last couple of weeks, recorded a message to be played at the luncheon. She spoke eloquently for approximately five minutes, concluding with: "I applaud Major League Baseball for its efforts to celebrate civil rights and keep the memory alive of all of those who fought against civil injustice."

Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, while noting his admiration for the other Beacon winners -- Hall of Fame football legend Jim Brown and Motown founder Berry Gordy -- said he and his wife and daughter were especially looking forward to meeting Dr. Angelou.

"Her legacy has been written," Winfield said. "People need to read about her, and not forget her. She had such an impact. She was so eloquent, timeless. Her legacy should not be forgotten."

Angelou overcame adversity both as an African-American and a woman, and a victim of abuse as a child, and she did so absent even a hint of resentment. That, too, Winfield said, should be considered part of her legacy.

"This is a person who started off with things very negative in her life," Winfield said. "She turned that around and made it a positive. She was an international figure, and she cross over to so many disciplines. She was a teacher and a motivator and she was much, much loved."

Said Sharon Robinson, daughter of baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson: "It was a terrible loss. She was an amazing woman and did so much for the country and certainly for women. On the other hand, I have joy because she left such a legacy, and her words will be with us always."

Brown, the recipient of the Beacon of Hope award and an accomplished activist who devoted much of his post playing career to community service, expressed a similar sentiment.

"In that poetry, there's so much truth, so much love, so much understanding," he said. "So much education. She was an icon. She is an icon. She is remembered by all of us as a tremendous person."

Keynote speaker Robin Roberts, a close friend of Angelou, recalled a conversation she had while visiting her at home.

"I asked her when she knew she would be such a blessing to the world?" Roberts said. "She humbly said she always knew, and her life depended on being a blessing."

The celebration of Angelou's legacy was uplifting, just as, Roberts noted, she would have wanted it.

"We choose not a moment of silence," Roberts said. "Because she so relished the song of life."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.