How Serena Williams helped Sheryl Sandberg through her husband’s death


Mary Ward

Sheryl Sandberg has revealed Serena Williams was a significant source of support following her husband’s unexpected death earlier this year.

The Facebook chief operating officer, whose husband passed away during a holiday to Mexico, told Sports Illustrated it felt like the tennis star was “carrying” her through her grief.

“‘I just kept getting these messages from Serena, every couple of days – for months,” she said in the December 21 issue of the magazine, in which Williams, 34, is named Sportsperson of the Year.

“Texts, messages, voice mails. She would write, ‘You have all my strength’ or ‘You are the strongest woman I know. You will get through this’.”

Sandberg’s husband, tech executive David Goldberg, died unexpectedly from a head trauma after he fell off a treadmill in May. He was 47.

Williams has also experienced the unexpected loss of a young family member: her half-sister, Yetunde Price, was shot to death in 2003 aged 31.

In a recent Q&A session on Quora, a question-and-answer website, Sandberg, 46, again sang Williams’ praises, describing the World No 1 as a “role model for women and men everywhere”.

“She shows all of us what’s possible when you work hard to achieve your dreams.”

In her Sports Illustrated interview, Williams revealed that she and Sandberg have become firm friends over the past year.

She said they met in December 2014 after she tweeted that the Lean In author was her fantasy celebrity dinner party guest.

Sandberg then decided to make contact, and the high-powered friendship (Sandberg has a net worth of $US1.3 billion, while Williams’ is estimated at $US145 million) kicked off.

Speaking to Sports Illustrated, Sandberg explained how Williams would turn up at her California home, to talk and tell her two children stories before bed “about her life and about trying and the times it was hard”.

In particular, Sandberg recalled how Williams had told the story of her experience at Indian Wells in 2001, when she was subjected to racist jeers from the crowd after allegations of match-fixing between herself and her sister, Venus.

Sandberg said Williams used the story to explain the need to let go and move on after an upsetting event.

“I thought the way she told it was beautiful,” she said.


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