Commentary

Remembering Desmond Tutu, Superstar of PeaceJam

Dawn Gifford Engle with Desmond Tutu, the second Nobel Peace Prize winner to sign on with PeaceJam.
Dawn Gifford Engle with Desmond Tutu, the second Nobel Peace Prize winner to sign on with PeaceJam. PeaceJam
Desmond Tutu has been a part of our lives for almost thirty years, and it feels impossible to ever say goodbye to this extraordinary, brilliant, beautiful man. Instead, we want to share his infectious laughter and spirit with you as we remember some of the moments we spent together.

We remember arriving at his residence in Cape Town, South Africa, with our knees knocking as we walked in to meet the Very Reverend Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the first time. He immediately put us at ease: "Sit down, my young friends, sit down!" He spent an hour with us in lively conversation, and then invited us to join him for tea and biscuits. He immediately fell in love with the idea of PeaceJam — putting Nobel Peace Prize winners together with youth — and he was thrilled that his dear friend, the Dalai Lama, had just agreed to be the founding Nobel for the PeaceJam Foundation.

Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama mentoring youth around the world — that is the moment when we knew our dream of creating something called PeaceJam would actually come true.

A few years later, he married us in his church, St. George's Cathedral, which was the epicenter of his efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. And here is what he wrote to us when he saw these photos of our wedding ceremony: "How simply gorgeous. You both look ecstatic in your spirit. May you have trillions of happy years ahead helping to make the world more compassionate, more caring, more joyful and more sharing. Love and blessings, Father."
click to enlarge Desmond Tutu married the founders of PeaceJam. - PEACEJAM
Desmond Tutu married the founders of PeaceJam.
PeaceJam
Desmond Tutu came to Denver twice for PeaceJam, and he led the charge when ten Nobel Peace Laureates gathered here to celebrate our tenth anniversary. It was the largest gathering of Nobel Peace Prize winners ever held outside of Oslo, Norway. Tutu was adamant that we use this rare occasion to launch something to help people all over the world: "You can't just have a cake and say happy birthday PeaceJam, man!" And so our Billion Acts of Peace Campaign was born. To date, it has inspired over 90,000,000 acts of peace in 171 countries, with young people addressing the root causes of problems like climate change, racism and extreme poverty, thanks to Tutu.

Desmond Tutu loved to tease Ivan. "When are you going to bathe, man?" he would joke every time he saw him.
click to enlarge Desmond Tutu with the PeaceJam founders at Monte Carlo. - GETTY IMAGES
Desmond Tutu with the PeaceJam founders at Monte Carlo.
Getty Images

And when Ivan wore a suit and a tie in honor of Tutu for the world premiere of our documentary film about him, Desmond Tutu laughed for fifteen minutes straight. He was in tears. He kept on laughing, and the paparazzi caught him reaching for Ivan's tie in this photo on the Monte Carlo red carpet. Then we sat next to him as he watched his life story being told for the very first time on film. When the entire crowd of 800 rose in a thunderous standing ovation in testament to the great life that he had lived, he sat quietly, looking down. And then he said, "Okay, that's enough," embarrassed by all of the attention.

Desmond Tutu nominated us two different times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and we were with him at his house in the Milnerton suburb of Cape Town in 2015, after the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for that year was announced. He was sad that we did not win, and frustrated with the Nobel Peace Prize committee. "They always badger me to nominate someone, constantly, but when I do so, they ignore it!" he said. Then Ivan began to make jokes and Tutu started to laugh, and then Tutu joined in with more jokes, and the tea and biscuits were handed around once again.

Desmond Tutu loved the Dalai Lama, and he was thrilled when we made a documentary called The Dalai Lama — Scientist, which became the sixth film in our Nobel Legacy Film Series. He wrote this email to us on the date of its worldwide release: "Heartiest congratulations. You have done very, very well and you are getting the recognition you deserve. Go, go, go. Yippee! Much love and blessings, Father."
click to enlarge Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Ivan Suvanjieff. - PEACEJAM
Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Ivan Suvanjieff.
PeaceJam
The memories go on and on. We remember filming him as he raged about Prime Minister P. W. Botha, who had just refused to testify or participate in the Tutu-led Truth and Reconciliation process. We remember watching him in awe as he led a morning prayer service with his beloved wife, Leah, in a tiny guest house in Botswana. We remember helping him and Leah as they humbly swept the floor of the Leper Church on Robben Island, reopening it to the public for the first time in almost seventy years.

He continued to mentor us throughout the years. Here is the last email that he sent to us: "Thank you, dearies. God bless you richly. You deserve no less. Much love and blessings, Father"

He gave us so much. He changed our lives. We love him so much. He will always be our father.

Dawn Gifford Engle and Ivan Suvanjieff are activists, filmmakers and the founders of the PeaceJam Foundation, a Colorado-based nonprofit that has been recognized internationally for excellence in peace education. They have both been nominated seventeen times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
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