It was beautiful, last month, listening to the many tributes that went out for Nelson Mandela in the wake of his death. I wanted to say something about my own feelings about the loss of this man who embraced his enemies and helped transform a country, but I felt like I didn’t have the right. What could I—a Jewish-American white woman—have to say? Then a colleague suggested that I write about Helen Suzman, whose death we remember this week. I drew a blank. Helen who?
A lovely May day in 1981. Standing — for the first and only time — in my black PhD robe waiting for the Brandeis Commencement festivities to begin. More ambivalent than excited. Not about my imminent departure from the Ivy Tower but about the speaker and honorary degree recipient, Helen Suzman, who died in Johannesburg yesterday at the age of 91.