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Southwest Georgians mourn the death of Nelson Mandela

Dougherty County Commissioner Gloria Gaines recalls meeting the world leader

South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela died peacefully at home at the age of 95 on Thursday, plunging his nation and the world into mourning for a man revered as a moral giant. (Photo: Reuters/Mike Hutchings)

South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela died peacefully at home at the age of 95 on Thursday, plunging his nation and the world into mourning for a man revered as a moral giant. (Photo: Reuters/Mike Hutchings)

ALBANY — Southwest Georgians recalled the impact of Nelson Mandela Friday as they joined the rest of the world in mourning the loss of the South African leader perhaps best known for his battle against apartheid.

Dougherty County Commissioner Gloria Gaines visited South Africa and met Mandela in 1993 as part of a minority transportation group that went to the country to teach its new leaders how to provide services. She also talked with the former South African president at his retirement.

Gaines was in South Africa this past summer and said that Mandela’s illness at that time left little doubt that his death was imminent.

“A lot of people were surprised that he actually came home from the hospital, he was so ill,” Gaines said. “And while his death was fully expected, it’s so great today to see how people are celebrating his life and his legacy. That’s what will endure.”

Gaines said there was a feeling of “being in the presence of greatness” when she was with Mandela.

“You guys ran a photo in The Herald of him patting me on the back,” she laughed. “What I remember about that photo was that my knees were so weak, I was afraid they would buckle under me. Even so, I’ve never met a man so humble. When that picture was taken, he leaned in to me and said, ‘Daughter, are they treating you right? If not, be sure to let me know.’

“So many people, when they reach that stature in life, they become aloof. Not Nelson Mandela. One of the things I remember most from his book is that he said while he was in prison, a myth was built around him. When he was released and returned to live with his wife (Winnie), their divorce was the result of her not being able to cope with the reality that he was just a man, no more and no less.”

James Bush, member of the Dougherty County Board of Education, called Mandela “an amazing man. A beautiful example of how we should live our lives. The apostle Paul was a changed man after Damascus Road. We all have our Damacus Roads and Mandela’s was 27 years in prison. He used that experience as a teaching tool.”

“We live in a better world today because Nelson Mandela was in it. He was a giant for justice and helped teach us that we should not deny ourselves the opportunity to talk with people who do not like us.”

Civil rights leader and former Albany City commissioner Charles Sherrod said, “The world lost a great man, but he’s leaving a legacy that will go on long after him. Mr. Mandela was a true African fighter, and he lived through some perilous, often brutal times. Just as he inspired us here in America, I’d like to think we inspired him in our (civil rights) struggles as well. Nelson Mandela’s was a miraculous life.”

“I’d say we lost a world icon,” said Albany city Commissioner Jon Howard. “I had the opportunity to see Mr. Mandela speak when he came to Atlanta in 1991, and I’ll always be thankful that I did. When you think of what he went through – sitting in that tiny jail cell for 27 years – and to come out and not hold any animosity against the (South African) government … well, that just takes a man of great character.

“I still have a pin that says ‘Death to Apartheid’, and I think the downfall of that form of government is one of the great moments of our lifetime. I proudly say that I look upon Nelson Mandela as a father figure.”

Congressional lawmakers said that Mandela’s impact had reached across the globe.

“Dr. King was my most admired hero until I learned of the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela,” U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, said Friday. “His courage, discipline, humility, and dignity in the face of his life’s struggles inspire me daily.

“His faith in God and commitment to the principles of freedom and justice for all are reflected in his favorite scripture from the Apostle Paul found in the 8th Chapter of Romans; ‘Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ He would not be separated from his principles of justice for all, no matter the cost. The world is truly a better place because of the example of his life. I send my deepest sympathies to his family and to the people of South Africa.”

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta, said Thursday that the world had lost a champion.

“The world lost a selfless champion of freedom, democracy and equality today,” Isakson said. “Nelson Mandela’s courage in the face of terrible injustice helped dismantle apartheid, and his determined leadership guided South Africa through a process of reconciliation that at one time seemed impossible.

“Mandela’s legacy will be one of dignity, forgiveness and a profound dedication to the principles that all free people hold dear. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and the people of South Africa.”