GUM SPRING (WRIC) - As the world mourns the loss of former South African President Nelson Mandela, everyone's thoughts are now with the legendary icon.
8News Senior Reporter Nate Eaton spoke with a local man from South Africa who actually met Mandela.
Deon Abrams runs the South African Food And Wine Festival every year and owns the Gray Haven Vineyard in Gum Spring.
The year Abrams was born in South Africa, Nelson Mandela went to jail. 27 years later, he was released on a day Abrams will never forget.
"He was just a light and a hope," he says. "It was just an incredible moment in time seeing him released and coming out as a free man and everybody's hopes were just pinned on this man."
That hope turned into a movement.
Abrams witnessed the power of Mandela's leadership and saw things happen he never thought were possible.
"There was nobody else in the world who could bring South Africa together as a nation and lead them out of the Apartheid era."
Abrams admires Mandela's humility and witnessed it firsthand.
Several years ago, as Abrams was with his mother in the hospital, he was stunned to see Mandela inside the building.
The leader's son had been admitted to the same hospital and Mandela spent time visiting with others.
"He just had an incredible warmth about him and he was a really big man, but he was so embracing of everybody," Abrams says. "He had a lot of forgiveness in his heart and he just a gentle soul."
Since news broke of Mandela's death, Abrams' Facebook wall has been flooded with messages of folks from his home country, all saying they've learned from a man who changed the world.
"I believe they will take his message of hope and carry it forward into the future," he says.
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