TAMPA — When Tampa lawyer Jeraldine Williams, 67, heard about former South African President Nelson Mandela's death, memories came rushing back.
She felt emotional about his passing but said it also felt like a dove had been released. She spent Thursday evening recalling the Christmas in 1995 she spent with Mandela.
Williams had gone to South Africa in 1994 intending to help impoverished children and to assist with the country's elections. She says her son met Mandela's granddaughter and that acquaintance resulted in an invitation to Mandela's home, where she helped plan a traditional American Christmas celebration, complete with a chicken-stuffed turkey.
She said Mandela was so grateful that he invited her and her son, Walter Lee Smith II, to lunch the next day. She remembers him as self-deprecating and funny.
"It was such a big, big deal but he reduced it to such a personal experience," she said.
Williams remained in South Africa until 2000 and says she was impressed by Mandela's leadership.
"I saw him having such an impact on the common people who looked up to him as their father, not just their leader," she said. "If he said it was to be, then it was."