Wisconsin leader named after Nelson Mandela talks about his legacy

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- After learning of the death of Nelson Mandela on Thursday, December 5th, FOX6 spoke with state and city leaders who shared their memories of the man who touched so many lives all over the world.

Former State Senator Spencer Coggs says he was dumbstruck after meeting Nelson Mandela at his South African residence in 1997.

"He was just the most gracious person," said Coggs. "We hear of great leaders who they say had an aura, well, Nelson Mandela had an aura."

Just hours after his death, the former president was heralded for his convictions, sacrifices and transformation of South Africa into a democratic society.

Wisconsin Democratic Representative Mandela Barnes was named after Nelson Mandela and says his namesake inspires him to live a meaningful life every day.

"He's a hero for the entire world," said Barnes. "I'll say that having the name, I've always had a lot to live up to."

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett met Nelson Mandela in Washington, D.C. in the mid 90s and calls the experience one of the biggest thrills of his life.

"I knew that I was standing with someone who played a major role in the history of the 20th centry," said Barrett. "If we had more people like him on this planet, the world would be a much better place."

UWM Provost and South African native Joannes Britz says Mandela is irreplaceable. He recalled voting for Mandela in the country's first free election.

"I was just lucky and privileged to live under his leadership in 1994 when he became the first democratic elected President in South Africa," said Britz.

Those who spoke with FOX6 consider Mandela, as many do, a giant player in the human rights movement.