The world lost a bright shining star this past weekend. My words aren’t enough to pay sufficient tribute to Shirley Wilkes-Johnson but she is the reason that I sprinkle pomegranate seeds on birthday cakes and she is the reason that we attended the Lone Star Vegetarian Chili cook-off many times, eventually entering ourselves and taking home the winning trophy in 2006 (for the now defunct Vegetarian Society of Houston). She inspired and delighted multitudes both through Go Vegan Texas (and later Vegan World) Radio and through personal encounters. She was a great thinker and a great cook. She was kind, passionate and driven.

Here is my favorite memory of Shirley…

She taught a cooking class at the Fiesta cooking school in Houston several years ago. This was after 9/11 and the theme was “A Romantic Middle Eastern Dinner”. We were fighting in the Middle East then, as now, and the idea of combining romance and the Middle East might not have made sense to many people, but when she concluded the class it all came together beautifully. She dusted the dessert with pomegranate seeds and talked about how they were considered an aphrodisiac. The pomegranate was a fruit of love, she said, and one of the ways that we learn to love and appreciate other cultures is through their food. Then she did an amazing thing. In the most poetic of ways, she extrapolated that into her dream for world peace, and made each of us there that night believe that we could all be a part of that vision simply by living a compassionate life. She made us believe that love could be spread as readily as hate and that kindness was contagious, and compassion the answer. I never left a cooking class filled with such emotion. Not before then or after. She had a way of turning a simple cooking class into a magical journey into the human heart.

Here are some remembrances of Shirley from others in the last few days…

Carol J. Adams:

Rhea on The “V” word:

You can be sure that there will be many more to follow.