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Once-in-lifetime encounter

January 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Highlights

Once-in-lifetime encounter

Remembering a humble and gracious man, a Las Vegas businesswoman recalls an unexpected meeting with Nelson Mandela


Local businesswoman Marilyn Crawford with Nelson Mandela

Globally regarded as a sainted icon in the vein of Mohandas Gandhi and Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela is often, and understandably, viewed as larger than life. He deserves the recognition, but it is equally important to remember Mandela the man.

One person who saw the human side of Mandela: Las Vegas entrepreneur Marilyn Crawford, an international brand development specialist whose business relationships led to a one-on-one meeting with the first democratically elected president of South Africa.

“I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Mandela because of my work with Mandela’s trust initiatives orchestrated by his goddaughter, supermodel Naomi Campbell,” Crawford recalled. “I was trying to remember the very first time I met Mr. Mandela, because being in someone’s presence and sitting down to spend some time with them are two different things. I have been blessed to have done both.”

After a well-heeled client expressed a desire to meet both Mandela and Oprah Winfrey, Crawford secured the opportunity when she was invited to an event in South Africa — co-hosted by the Nobel Prize winner and the media mogul. “I came across the invitation on my desk, and told my very prominent client to gas up his G-5 [jet] and let’s head to South Africa to this event that both Mandela and Oprah were sure to attend,” she recalled. “Initially, my client was reluctant to go to the … event, because he wanted to meet both Mandela and Oprah in a more intimate setting. I told him to put his trust in me, and he did and as soon as we got to the event location, I told my client to allow me to escort him to his table. I took him to be seated at the same table as Mr. Mandela and Oprah. It all seemed to have worked out, and my client was amazed to be sitting at the head table with the two people he wanted to meet most.”

Accustomed to meeting the objectives of her clients, Crawford  asked the chief of staff if there might be another opportunity for Mr. Mandela to meet for an extended personal conversation. That resulted in an invitation to Mandela’s home, where Crawford and her client enjoyed the simplicity of his personal side.

“I will never forget when we arrived at his home after passing through security, we were invited to come into his living room and to sit while we awaited his entrance,” she said. “His house was beautiful and very monochromatic in design. The walls and furniture were beige, and I noticed that there were no awards anywhere to be seen on his walls or displayed. Shortly after arriving, I hear Mr. Mandela’s wonderful voice coming down the stairs saying, ‘Welcome home, my daughter.’ I am no relation to Mr. Mandela, but he had a way of making you feel like you were his daughter. Everyone was his daughter or son. The best words I can use to describe him is very calming presence. You immediately feel the presence of power while in his company — but not an invasive power. It was one of contentment. His conversation was one of passion and generosity. While sitting in his living room — overlooking his garden and having tea — we enjoyed the pleasantries of simple conversations. It wasn’t difficult to develop a personal connection with Mr. Mandela, because he was not a difficult man. He had so much love, and each person he met was made to feel that they were the most important person in the room. He was a great listener, and was engaged in whatever you talked about. He made you feel that your words were as important to him as his words were to you. I think that is why Mr. Mandela was so effective in what he accomplished — and it wasn’t because he was trying to. It was because he was right.”

Indeed, Mandela earned reverence around the world for his struggle against — and eventual triumph over — apartheid, uniting generations in South Africa and beyond in the battle against injustice.

“Mr. Mandela’s mentality was on a different level, and his cognitive thinking was one to always put the needs of the people first,” Crawford said. “I am sure he had questions as it related to harboring resentment for his oppressors, but he knew it was in the best interest of the people to forgive and move forward toward a new South Africa. I think to a huge degree his legacy is not just an understanding of forgiveness, but to actually demonstrate its power to reach objectives for peace.”

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