As millions around the world mourned the passing of Nelson Mandela Thursday, local residents who heard the anti-apartheid leader’s message in person remembered him as an inspiring figure.
Superior Court Judge David Roper and wife Edna met Mandela in the spring of 2002 while attending a Rotary District Conference in Malawi. Roper, who was at the time an incoming director on the Rotary International Board, was invited to the same state dinner as Mandela the night before the conference.
Roper remembered Mandela as a very dignified, yet fragile man. Roper said he and his wife had a brief introduction to Mandela before they were seated at the dinner, attended by 150 people, mostly Rotarians.
“He was very friendly,” he said. “We enjoyed meeting him. We did not have much interaction with him, because you can imagine, everybody wanted to have interaction with Mandela.”
Roper said Mandela gave an inspiring speech the next day about “doing good” and was highly concerned with the famine then affecting Malawi and Zimbabwe.
“Everybody loved Mandela,” he said. “That was so obvious.”
Channing Sherman got to hear Mandela speak during his 2000 commencement ceremony at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.
“During his speech he was very open and shared as many of his mistakes as successes,” Sherman said. “He had no problems admitting that he could have done some things differently along the way. He wasn’t speaking to us as Mandela the larger-than life-hero. He was speaking to us a Mandela the person.”
Sherman said the graduation was moved outside to the football field to accommodate a larger audience. The university’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs is named after Mandela, Sherman said.
“I think my biggest takeaway from his speech was that it’s not enough to just be a successful person. You should also be a good person,” he said. “I don’t remember the exact quote but there was a line about being a person that does right by others. Anyone can wish you luck and encourage you to do well. Mandela encouraged me to do good.”