If ever there was a political leader worthy of our profound admiration and thanks, it was former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95.
Mandela rose to prominence in his home nation as a vocal activist fighting against the evils of that country's apartheid practices. For his defiance, he was sentenced to life in prison in 1964. He became a world symbol while spending 27 years confined for his belief that black South Africans should have the same rights as white South Africans.
While the lengthy jail time demonstrated Mandela's commitment to his convictions on racial equality, it was his actions upon his release that displayed his true greatness.
As former South African President F.W. de Klerk was courageously leading his country away from its racist policies, he ordered the release of Mandela in 1990. That release set in motion the inevitable election of Mandela as the nation's first black president four years later.
It would have been understandable had Mandela been bitter and vindictive. But instead of the usual to-the-victor-goes-the-spoils attitude of most politicians, Mandela chose to move the country forward. He spent the next five years as president attempting to unify his nation. He argued for reconciliation instead of retribution, all while picking apart the racist systems of government that had existed in South African for decades.
While he left office in 1999, Mandela remained as South Africa's senior iconic statesman and a global symbol for racial reconciliation.
His death in his Johannesburg home was not a surprise as he had been ill for some time. But it is a sad, sad day just the same.
South African President Jacob Zuma said it best in a state television address, when he called it " ... a moment of our deepest sorrow. Our nation has lost its greatest son."
While South Africa has lost its greatest son, the world has lost one of its greatest, most inspiring leaders. In the coming days, there will be much sorrow expressed about his passing, but we believe that Mandela would counsel us to spare the tears and continue the difficult and necessary work of reconciliation.