Demi DeSoto recalls Maya Angelou as a pillar of calm.
Now a Medford resident and broadcaster for Table Rock Sports, DeSoto previously worked as communications director for the Fresno County Chamber of Commerce.
During a visit by Angelou in the mid-1990s to help raise money for the California Advocate, an African-American newspaper, DeSoto served as her host and temporary publicist, accompanying her to events and press conferences.
"It's like being in the presence of Yoda," DeSoto, 51, recalls. "Spending that time with her and watching her go through what would be a very monotonous process of dealing with reporters, dealing with TV cameras. Just the air about her, her sense of calmness, her vision and purpose and actual sincerity to everyone that she met."
Angelou, a noted author, poet, teacher and activist, died Wednesday at her North Carolina home. She was 86.
DeSoto met her almost 20 years ago, but the impact she made on him hasn't gone away, he says.
"Everything in her way of thinking was always on a level of the bigger picture," DeSoto says. "No matter who you were, if you were a mayor, if you were a reporter, if you were a waitress taking the lunch order, she looked you in the eye, and for that moment, she was talking to you. That's a rare quality."
DeSoto's mother and son also got to meet her. When she left, DeSoto says, he stayed in touch with her for about a year and continued to follow her work after that. He read her books. His favorite is "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."
News of Angelou's death was difficult for him to hear.
"I knew her health was deteriorating. You never want to think about it," he says. "She's led a very profound life. She has touched the lives of millions."
DeSoto says he'll continue to try to emulate Angelou's calmness and sincerity, and her famous quote — "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel" — will stay on his mind.
"It was kind of her mantra, if you will," DeSoto says. "That's exactly who she was."