Dr. Donda West, Kanye’s mother, was eulogized and lauded by friends and former colleagues Friday afternoon (November 16) at a memorial service held at Chicago State University, where she was on the faculty for 24 years. Praising her as a mentor, colleague and friend, West — who died on Saturday following surgery — was remembered as an inspiration during a lively event that featured gospel singing, heartfelt reminiscences and pleas for some traditional call-and-response from a colleague who doubles as a preacher.
“She had a vibrant spirit, and one that was nurturing and also supportive, but nonetheless always challenging,” Robyn Wheeler, director of university relations, told People magazine before the event. “We felt the service should reflect who she really was.”
Judging by a live feed of the event provided by NBC5.com, it did not appear to feature son Kanye — who is reportedly still in Europe, where he is slated to kick off his European tour next week — though People reported that Donda West’s nephew would be on hand to represent the family.
One colleague, current English and Communications Department Chairwoman Dr. Brenda Eatman Aghahowa, remembered a few maxims that Dr. West often related, reminding fellow professors that “the work people are doing is not more important than the people who are doing it,” and “No big I’s and no little you’s in Donda’s department.” West was a former professor at the school and served as the chair of the English and Communications, Media Arts, and Theater department.
“This is an absolutely impossible assignment, both emotionally and practically,” said Aghahowa, an ordained minister who insisted the audience in the auditorium and overflow space respond to her calls as if they were in church. “Not only am I having to say something about my dear friend, whom we all have lost far too early, I also have to say what I want to say in just a few minutes. And as I often jokingly tell people, as a black preacher, I need at least five minutes just to clear my throat.”
Speaking of the “lessons Donda taught me,” Aghahowa talked about West’s insistence on honoring the dignity of each person, appreciating black culture and dropping emotional baggage. “Everyone who knew Donda knows how much fun she was and how down to earth she was,” Aghahowa said, expounding on how Dr. West strove to break down barriers between the members of her department and emphasize the importance of respecting the school’s students.
The West family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Donda West’s name to the Kanye West Foundation/ Loop Dreams Teacher Training Institute, an organization that benefits students with an interest in hip-hop. West is scheduled to be buried on Tuesday in her hometown of Oklahoma City, according to “Access Hollywood.”
The cause of West’s death is still unknown, and a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office announced this week that it may be up to six weeks before it is determined through toxicology tests. West passed away on Saturday following possible complications from an unspecified surgery on Friday. A plastic surgeon with a troubled past, Dr. Jan Adams, has said he performed an abdominoplasty (commonly referred to as a “tummy tuck”) and breast reduction on West, but denied that her death was the result of negligence on his part.
Adams has been investigated by the California State Medical Board and has been the subject of several malpractice suits that resulted in payments from him exceeding $500,000. On Friday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge had issued a warrant for Dr. Adams’ arrest after the doctor did not show up for a hearing on a malpractice judgment, but the warrant was canceled after he arrived late, according to CNN. The site reported that a former patient, Lori Ufondu, sued Adams and won a judgment in excess of $100,000 over a sponge he allegedly left inside her following a surgery. Ufondu’s lawyer told TMZ that Adams hasn’t paid the settlement.
[This story was originally published on 11.16.2007 at 3:23 p.m. ET]