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Poet and author Maya Angelou remembered

WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina--Maya Angelou liked to say that people will forget what you said or did in your life, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey said Saturday they were among the millions touched by Angelou's wisdom when they needed help to rise.

Family and friends gathered Saturday to remember one of the 20th century's most famous black writers. Amid tears, laughter, and gospel singing, they met at Wake Forest University, where she taught for 32 years, though she never graduated from college. Dr. Angelou, as she liked to be addressed out of respect for all the honorary degrees she received, died May 28 at age 86.

Hers was a remarkable life, linking the worlds of civil rights, poetry, acting and teaching, those present recalled at the tribute.

“We could just all be up here talking about how Maya Angelou represented a big piece of American history. And triumphed over adversity. And proved how dumb racism is,” Clinton said at the private memorial service. “But her great gift in her action-packed life was she was always paying attention. And from the time she started writing her books and her poetry, what she was basically doing was calling our attention to the things she'd been paying attention to.”

Michelle Obama added, “She told us that our worth has nothing to do with what the world might say. Instead, she said, each of us comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory. She reminded us that we must each find our own voice, decide our own value, and then announce it to the world with all the pride and joy that is our birthright as members of the human race.”

Tall and majestic, Angelou added heft to her spoken words with a deep and sonorous voice. She once described herself as a poet in love with “the music of language.” She recited the most popular presidential inaugural poem in history, “On the Pulse of Morning,” when Clinton opened his first term in January 1993.

Clinton remembered that voice, and how Angelou chose not to speak for five years after she was raped by her mother's boyfriend as a child.

“She was without a voice for five years and then she developed the greatest voice on the planet. God loaned her His voice,” Clinton said. “She had the voice of God. And he decided he wanted it back.”

Winfrey said the close and constant friend she met before becoming a TV talk show host could shake her out of bouts of self-doubt. Angelou taught her to look beyond trouble and spot the rainbow in the clouds, Winfrey said.

“Maya Angelou is the greatest woman I have ever known,” Winfrey said, then almost sobbing: “She was my anchor. So it's hard to describe to you what it means when your anchor shifts.”

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Mourners wait outside Wait Chapel before a memorial service for poet and author Maya Angelou, at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Saturday, June 7. (AP)

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