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Reflections on Nelson Mandela

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Nelson Mandela has been a great spiritual and political leader for the people of South Africa, and was revered in many parts of the world. I had a beloved memory of him which is especially vivid at this time.

For about twenty years of my 45-year reporting career (still working!), I listed South Africa as one of my stations. Nelson Mandela had access to a radio while he was serving his long sentence on Robben Island. I assume a friendly guard must have snuck a radio to him. I did not realize the great man listened to my reports in the morning and evening.

Years later, he was free and was leading the South African people. He was invited to Washington for an official visit and held a news conference. As he called on each of us, he asked us to identify ourselves. I said I was Connie Lawn and he seemed amazed. He stepped down from the podium, and surprised me with a warm bear hug. President Mandela said, "I have always wanted to meet you -- your reports gave my people hope. But, you are not as big as I thought you were!" To that, everyone in the room laughed! I would have laughed too, if I were not crying.

I still have the tape of that exchange -- it is one of my most prized possessions. Sometimes we forget how rewarding and influential reporting can be, and how it truly bridges people across the world!