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With deep admiration for her vision and passion, we join the international community in expressing our sincere condolences to the family of Wangari Maathai. Her conviction inspired a movement to preserve the environment – she led an effort that saw more than 47 million trees planted throughout Africa, and pledged to plant one billion more worldwide in partnership with the UN – but her impact reached far beyond sustainable development. Wangari became a symbol for citizen engagement with democracy, peace initiatives and women’s rights. She believed in the power and potential of people to transform our world.

I had the great privilege of meeting with Wangari shortly after she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004; she had an energy that filled the room, a sense of resolute purpose and unfailing compassion that truly set her apart as a visionary leader. She told me that she believed a great leader needed three things: “passion, vision and persistence.” Her breakthrough as the first African woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize resonated with the girls of a rising generation, fueling them forward:

“I remember in Kenya when the announcement that I had won the Nobel Peace Prize came, and I would walk in the streets, and young women would come up to me with tears in their eyes. They would embrace me and they would congratulate me, and I knew that what they were really saying is that, ‘if you can do it, then maybe I too can do it.'”

We remember Wangari for her spirit, and honor her for her life’s work – she inspired many more of us than she could know, and I am certain her legacy will continue to sustain a movement to preserve our environment, human rights and peace.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (center) walks with Kenyan Minister of Agriculture William Ruto (left) and Wangari Maathai (right) during a tour of the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) near Nairobi in 2009. 


More Quotes from Alyse’s Interview with Wangari Maathai:

“Dreams are realized with very little money, little technology, but with an understanding that it is possible to do things for yourself by transforming the environment so that it gives you these primary sources.”

“There is great wisdom in a society where women and children are protected and are given the opportunity to fulfill their full potential.”

“There is no doubt that, when one person makes a breakthrough, many others feel that they can make that breakthrough.”

“These people have had a vision, have had a passion, they pursued that passion with a determination, they were patient because they knew that things don’t happen overnight. But they were also persistent, they stayed with that idea.”