UPPER EAST SIDE, NY - Every Christmas, without fail, iconic poet, actress and civil rights activist Maya Angelou had entrusted her holiday decorations to a Filipino florist in New York's Upper East Side.
Dennis Josue, co-owner of Fantasia Floral Design, has been decorating Dr. Angelou's Harlem home since 1998.
The Bicol native said a friend who works at Bloomingdale's introduced him to Angelou.
"He asked me, 'Do you want to do the Christmas decorations for Maya Angelou?'" Josue said, "I said oh ok, it would be an honor for me do to it because I know Maya Angelou is an icon."
The Pinoy florist said he will never forget meeting the Presidential Medal of Freedom awardee for the first time.
"She looked at me and then said hello," Josue said.
"When she asked me, 'Where are you from?' I said from the Philippines," Josue said, "The only thing that she said 'Oh I love Filipinos,' - you can see in her eyes, I mean right in front of me when she said that, I felt wow, I'm accepted."
From 15-foot fresh Christmas trees to holiday garlands in her kitchen, Josue said Angelou was impressed with their very first design that she had called for their service every time.
"She wanted to be more whimsical because that's where they gather, so one Christmas I decided to do all Ginger Bread man like hanging them all the way to the mantle piece and she loved it," He said.
Josue, who has designed floral arrangements for the likes of music legend Elton John (AIDA's cast party), fashion mogul Josie Natori, and former owner of American Idol, Millionaire Robert Sillerman, said that working with the international icon was like working for a friend.
"She's a very gentle woman, I think her disposition is more like, you know, welcoming, warm, and inviting and she always have a smile on her face," he said
When Dr. Angelou died in her sleep at her Winston-Salem home last Wednesday, Josue said he felt he lost a friend.
For him Dr. Angelou's legacy is her poetry.
"The poems that she wrote were very powerful, when you read about the poems it just strikes into your heart, very powerful," Josue said.
This coming Christmas, Josue said he is creating a special tree in honor of Dr. Marguerite Annie Johnson popularly known as Dr. Maya Angelou.
"I would like to do a Christmas Tree of all her books in the Christmas Tree, that's all that I want to do," he said.