Richard Branson: Remembering Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

I’m so sad that Arch has passed away – the world has lost a giant. He was a brave leader, a mischievous delight, a profound thinker, and a dear friend. It’s hard to express just how much of an inspiration Arch is to the world and to those fortunate to have crossed paths with him. When I think of people with the moral authority of the universe running through them, I think of Arch. He used his incredible moral courage to bridge divides and showed all of us how we have one common humanity.

Our friendship goes back to the founding days of The Elders. When Peter Gabriel and I asked Arch’s great friend Nelson Mandela to form an independent group of global leaders, he turned to Arch to help turn it into reality.

Richard Branson, with former president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the foreground. (Image by David Turnley)

Arch was pivotal in shaping a group who use their voices, their wisdom and their negotiating skills to help resolve conflicts and tackle the greatest challenges humanity faces. He went on to be an incredible chair of The Elders from 2007 to 2013 and an incredible supporter of Virgin Unite’s work around the world.

Of course, as the face and conscience of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Arch was perfectly placed to turn The Elders’ vision into action. He deservedly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his work in the fight against apartheid and crucial role in uniting and healing a deeply wounded country.

He was a tireless campaigner for justice, an unwavering champion of human rights and was never afraid to speak truth to power. Through a message of optimism, hope and love, he showed South Africa and the world how to set aside what divides, learn from the past and join together to build a better future.

Arch was one of the most positive, funny, life-affirming people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He had no airs and graces, and always made everyone laugh. “I don’t know why, but some people accuse me of name-dropping,” he told me once. “I just happened to have lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace the other day and she said, ‘Arch, you are SUCH a name-dropper!’”

He formed a wonderful partnership with his wife Leah. I love how they supported each other, and the little details that made up their life together. From Arch serving Leah coffee in bed, to Leah nursing Arch when he wasn’t feeling well – the little things added up to an enormous whole. “We are made for loving,” Arch said. “If we don’t love, we will be like plants without water.” All of our thoughts are with Leah and Arch’s family.

Leah and Desmond Tutu. (Image from Benny Gool)

On one occasion Leah gently disagreed with him and Arch responded by telling a story of all these hen-pecked men trying to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. On one side, an enormous queue of men were waiting in the ‘hen-pecked men’ line, and on the other side there was one man standing in the ‘others’ queue. St Peter asked this man: “How come you are standing in this queue?” The man responded: “Because my wife told me to!” With Arch, I am pretty certain that St Peter will let him jump any queue. He more than deserves it.

One of the great pleasures of my life was teaching him to swim with Peter Gabriel. He was a fast learner and was soon splashing by us with plenty of giggles. His energy, his passion, and his love for life and humanity shone out through everything he did. I’ll never forget his laugh, and how his smile lit up the room.

Here are some more of Arch’s joyful words to lift us up in this unhappy moment: “We are each made for goodness, love and compassion. Our lives are transformed as much as the world is when we live with these truths.”

Thank you Arch for your love, life, laughter and leadership.

This article was originally posted on Richard Branson’s blog.

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Richard Branson
Tie-loathing adventurer, philanthropist & troublemaker, who believes in turning ideas into reality.

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