MSU faculty remember anti-apartheid leader

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – The world remembers a social justice leader who helped end apartheid segregation in South Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s most notable work may have been done half a world away, but his legacy can be seen at Michigan State University.

“When you met him you immediately felt that sense of aspiration and hope for a better world,” said Kurt Dewhurst, a MSU professor.

Dewhurst and Marsha MacDowell have been with the university for more than 40 years.

Through their work in art and cultural heritage, they found themselves helping preserve artifacts and works owned by the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation. That connection lead them to meet with Tutu several times.

“In the most serious situations, he would find joy and, and I think that’s a wonderful lesson for all of us particularly now in these times,” said MacDowell.

A working relationship soon lead to a personal one with the South African leader. Their granddaughter was named after Tutu and even joined in a trip to meet him.

“When she was born, he took the time to write a personal letter to her,” she remembered. “He was funny in that he wrote to her, an infant, saying that he hoped that he didn’t do anything to embarrass her.” MacDowell said.

The social justice leader’s legacy at Michigan State didn’t end at his 2009 graduation speech.

“When he was here he talked about the relationship that MSU had, it had played in fighting apartheid and reminded people here and I think many people at MSU weren’t fully aware of it,” said Dewhurst.

Tutu’s spirit also lives in the work of the African Studies Center and a partnership with the legacy foundation to improve the connection between museums and communities.

A collaboration the two hope will continue his spirit of unity.

“That’s how he lead his life, everyday we have a responsibility to make the world better and I think he did during his lifetime,” Dewhurst said.

Tutu was a retired clergyman and campaigner for human rights. He died on Sunday at 90 years old.

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