Sometimes it's the people you meet only fleetingly that leave the strongest impressions.
One of them was Dr. Patricia Gorvalla, a successful entrepreneur, educator and philanthropist in Cape Town, South Africa. A black woman in pre-apartheid South Africa, she began supplementing her income by driving a cab, then went on to found some 13 businesses, shape the future of the University of the Western Cape, and befriend everyone of good will who crossed her path. She was an advisor and confidant to Mandela and Tutu, and a true, no-nonsense force of nature.
She died the other day at 86.
When our pal Tyrena was the commercial officer at our consulate in Cape Town a number of years ago, we visited her there for several weeks. One night she brought us to a party at the Ambassador's residence where Dr. Gorvalla (call me "Auntie Pat") was also a guest. We were introduced and chatted for some little while. Later, Tyrena told us, "Auntie Pat likes you very much. She is angry at me for not bringing you to her earlier in your visit. We have all been summoned to dinner at her home on your last night in Cape Town." Tyrena added, "It is a command performance, but I promise you, it will be quite an evening."
And it was. The lady--and her story--are remarkable beyond words, certainly more than I can express here. The quiet moments over dinner hearing about how a struggle turned into a triumph would inspire anyone with a soul. It certainly did us.
We've talked about Auntie Pat ever since. Of all our memories of Cape Town, she's the strongest and most inspirational.