Cicely Tyson's Close Friends Remember Her: 'She Made Sure Her Actions Would Impact Those Who Followed'

"Her delight in life was not in being Cicely Tyson, the person of stage and screen and who had more awards than you can count," a close friend of Cicely Tyson tells PEOPLE

Of the many roles Cicely Tyson played, none was more important than mentor.

Over her 60-plus year career, Tyson chose characters—and work—that showed not just the humanity of Black people, but were meant to inspire the generations that followed her. "It's very exciting to know that you are, hopefully, making a roadway for someone else to follow," she once explained.

Her longtime friend Minyon Moore, a political adviser to the Clintons and Vice President Kamala Harris, tells PEOPLE, "Her delight in life was not in being Cicely Tyson, the person of stage and screen and who had more awards than you can count. She worked with all the major civil rights leaders fighting for change in this country. She had a platform that she combined with her activism and her philanthropic work to advance causes for Black Women, children and humanity. "

Cicely Tyson
Cicely Tyson in 1974. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

An American icon, Tyson died on Jan. 28 at the age of 96, just as her long-awaited memoir, As I Am, was released everywhere. From Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, to Tyler Perry and her TV daughter Viola Davis, tributes poured in for the Oscar, Emmy and Tony winner. To those who were close to her, like Moore and crisis manager Judy Smith, CEO of Smith and Company and the real life inspiration for Scandal's Olivia Pope, she was a parental figure who was invested in lifting them so they could reach their full potential.

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Smith says in the new issue of PEOPLE, out Friday, "She transcended acting. She was deliberate in how she showed up in the world. And she made sure her actions would impact those who followed. So many people talk about making a difference, but so few people actually pass the test."

Smith adds, "Cicely was my first entertainment client (after serving as President H.W. Bush's Deputy Press Secretary, and before Scandal). She said, 'I'm putting my faith in you.' That meant everything to me. I thought, 'I better not screw up!' She opened the door and others followed."

Cicely Tyson
Cicely Tyson.

Moore, who was working on Reverend Jesse Jackson's Presidential campaign when she met Tyson in 1988, recalls their friendship deepening.

While working at the White House, she invited Tyson to stay with her in D.C. so she could attend the State Dinner for President Nelson Mandela in 1994. "I didn't want her to have to worry about a hotel. So that began our journey of many talks and laughs around the kitchen counter."

"When she had downtime, she would get on the train and head to D.C.," she adds. "Sometimes she would stay for a couple of days, and other times a couple of weeks. It became a place for her to just come and relax. It's very hard to describe the relationship. We were very close, kindred spirits for sure. I loved my 'Drama Queen' which I affectionately called her."

Moore and Smith collaborated with Tyson in 2006 to open the Cicely Tyson School of Performing Arts. "Like always, she put everyone to work for her causes and passions," says Smith. "She spent real time with the students. Those kids were the joy of her life and she wanted to see them all go to college."

For Smith, that parental relationship extended to nutritional advice. "She used to get on me to be healthy, to go vegan," she says. "One time, we were meeting and I had a muffin in my bag, and it fell out, and Cicely said to me, 'We're going to have to talk about this Judy. You can't be eating that junk.'" Smith is now also vegan.

Moore laughs at Tyson's devotion to health. "She could go into a grocery store, and it would take her four hours to get green juice," she says. "She would go up and down every aisle." And, no matter how many heads she turned, she always tried to pretend that no one knew who she was," says Moore. "When someone would say she looked like Cicely Tyson, she'd say, 'You know, I can't tell you how many people say that,' and we'd just go with it. She'd walk on off and I'd turn around and nod my head. I just couldn't rob them of the experience of seeing her. I wanted them to experience that joy."

For more on Cicely Tyson, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Later in her career, Tyson supported young Black directors, producers and actors like Tyler Perry, Shonda Rhimes Ava DuVernay, Kimberly Elise, and Viola Davis. "She gave them wings and they gave her wings. They came into her life at a time when she needed them most. The unconditional love they showed her, was never lost on her," says Moore.

Adds Smith, "She got back what she gave. They embraced her. It speaks to our community. She was able to separate 'This is what I do' from 'This is who I am.' She was fierce. Independent. Strong. She didn't compromise on her values or ethics."

Tyson, who was passionate about equality, was particularly happy to see President Joe Biden choose Kamala Harris as his running mate. Moore recalls, "She would say, 'I know he's going to do the right thing.'" The morning Biden announced his choice, "I remember her saying, I stood up in my bed and jumped like a 3-year-old, she was so happy."

For both Smith and Moore, Tyson will remain a powerful force in their lives. "Once Cicely was connected to you, she was connected to you forever," says Smith.

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