by Gloria Dulan-Wilson
I was sad to learn of the passing of a living Legend into the realm of the Ancestors. Dr. Muriel Petioni, whom I considered a friend, and an inspiration, made her transition, recently, at the tender age of 97. And if I had not learned so much from her, and enjoyed being around her so much, I guess I would actually be in mourning.
But I have to admit, I had so many fond memories of Dr. Petioni that I think of her and I smile. Whenever and where ever she was, you knew you were in good company; you were at the right place, and you were definitely walking in high cotton.
Dr. Petioni always gracefully entered a room with that beautiful smile of hers, dressed as though she had just stepped out of Vogue; or had a wardrobe detail that followed her around making sure that she was dressed in the most elegant fashions - tailored for her tiny figure.
Her face was always framed with that beautiful silvery short french cut, and she breezed around the room greeting everyone, having small conversations, or involving in deep political or socially relevant issues.
As with her son Mal (a/k/a Charles), Woolfolk - who no doubt got that faculty from his mom -I could (and would) sit and talk with her for hours. We never covered the same subject twice. And it didn't matter if we hadn't seen each other for weeks or months, we always seemed to be able to pick up right where we left off from the previous conversation.
I totally adored that lady, because she let nothing get her down, and kept her hand in everything relevant; with that sharp mind of hers always turning its attention to something new to benefit the community and mankind. There was nothing that she was not interested in; and a great many programs and protocols she was instrumental in getting off the ground, just because we would not stop half way.
She kept up with the times, and was often very much ahead of them, as well. For example, we had a great ongoing conversation about autologus adult stem cells (self-donated stem cells, not embryonic) and the next wave in curing such ills as arthritic knees, diabetes, kidney disfunctions. Her pet peeve is (oh, I mean, "was") how the Black community tended to always be the last to know about medical breakthroughs; or would be afraid to try new protocols unless it appeared to be approved by whites. We discussed the future of medicine as it pertained to Black doctors, many of whom were also mired in the past; with some continuing to dispense outmoded medical treatments, as opposed to bringing innovations into the Black community.
Then we would move to our favorite ethnic (Black) designers - M-Sin (Marvin Sin) who makes wonderful Africentric designer handbags; or Moshood, the African designer. Dr. Petioni never went in for muted colors. She would show up in burnt orange silk, or electric blue, or deep burgandy reds. She was always elegant. 97??? Most folks think that when you're 97 you have blue hair, have a walking cane, orthotics, false teeth, and are doddering around with the considerable help of several people.
Not Dr. Muriel Petioni. You'd see her at the Schomburg Library one day, at Aaron Davis Hall the next, and at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building the next. You might catch her at a jazz session, or at a play. Most definitely at a reception or an awards benefit. She was out and about, all the time.
It was invigorating talking to that beautiful lady who had matured, not aged; who had, at 97, continued to make contributions to the world, and make the world sit up and take notice. Who would not be shunted aside into some dark corner as though she had outlived her usefulness; who was just as sharp at 97 as she was at 17. Who proved that age is just a number, life is a mindset, and being that beacon of light and blessing was not an option, but to her mandatory.
Harlem Hospital, people of Harlem, 100 Black Women, Black people of New York, and Black People the world over, have much to thank this beautiful little giant of a woman. She has joined the other goddesses who are now looking at us and saying - what are you going to do to keep this legacy going? Little feet with huge footprints that have been left behind for us to walk in, and we'd better get to stepping, because Dr. Petioni did not allow any half measures (I was going to say no "Half stepping", but that would have been redundant, wouldn't it?)
Anyway, since I want to be like Dr. Petioni when I grow up, I have decided to start now being the me she always thought I was. And that means that I got a lot to do to make that happen. I certainly want to see 97 this side of the earth and making a contribution to my brothers and sisters as well. So I humbly pledge to be a better me so that I can get my big feet on the path of those tiny gigantic foot steps. I really celebrate the fact that I had the privilege of knowing Dr. Muriel Petioni.
My Blessings to Mal, Carol, and the rest of the family; as well as my condolences and love.
Stay Blessed &