Local ties to Nelson Mandela

South Bend, Ind. As the world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela, some local residents shared their experiences with the man who led the fight to end the system of apartheid.

University of Notre Dame’s Fr. Oliver Williams met Nelson Mandela several times during his work on the National Advisory Council to U.S. companies in South Africa. The first time they met was on a trip in 1991.

“He said ‘We want you to help us get U.S. companies to come back into South Africa and invest and create jobs, create wealth for the country,’” Fr. Williams said. As a result, Notre Dame held a landmark conference where officials of the African National Congress met U.S. government representatives and executives of more than 40 major corporations to discuss investing policies in the post-apartheid country.

But beyond the formal relationship, Fr. Williams remarked on Mandela’s genuinely kind persona.

“He created a wonderful atmosphere for any meeting he was at,” Williams said. “He was a genuinely happy person. As he said, he could've been an old curmudgeon with all the suffering he entailed, but he used it another way. He said, ‘You know, somehow through all the suffering I can steal my character for better things that are in the future for me.’”

Randy Armstrong, a Niles resident who worked at Golden Dome productions in the early nineties when he met Mandela. The ND production company (produced at WNDU) covered the World Social Summit in 1995 and landed an interview with the leader.

“I just remember how humble he was -- that was what really impressed me,” Armstrong said. “Here I was, standing in the hall and I was allowed to be the first person to meet him. I was expecting an entourage to come and boot me to the side, yet he came in with two or three people and he was happy to be there and to be a part of the show. It made me feel very special.”

Email your Nelson Mandela experiences to newscenter16@wndu.com.

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