Nelson Mandela: A Reporter's Brief Encounter with Greatness

By Gregory B. Hladky

5:14 PM EST, December 5, 2013


In 1992, while reporting on the Democratic National Convention in New York City, I had the chance to cover Nelson Mandela. He was the only political figure that ever truly left me in awe.

Mandela died in his South African home Thursday at age 95.

I was working for the New Haven Register in 1980 and my assignment was to keep track of the Connecticut delegation to the convention. Then-U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd liked to bring in political celebrities to the delegation's morning meetings at their hotel, and they were routinely the sort that are easily forgotten.

All but Mandela.

The pols and all the Connecticut reporters who were there were stunned when Dodd walked in with Mandela. There is a corny phrase journalists sometimes use to describe the effect a personality can have on a room, calling it "electric."

It was the only time in my career when that word was absolutely correct.

Mandela had been released from a 27-year prison term only a couple of years earlier. He would negotiate the end of white rule in South African and prevent the blood bath that many (including myself) thought would be required to end apartheid.

I don't now recall what he actually said that morning. I simply remember that I knew at that moment he was the greatest man I'd ever encountered. None of the presidents or diplomats or governors I'd covered before (or since) could measure up to Mandela.

He was an individual who helped free an entire nation. I do not think I shall see his like again in this lifetime.