By Walt Hunter

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The crowds cheered as Nelson Mandela walked away from 27 years of imprisonment in 1990.

He had defeated the hate and poison of apartheid that had kept him behind bars, triumphing to become South Africa’s first black president.

Mandela never spoke of revenge, but rather, of the uniting of all races. He became an international symbol of tolerance and extraordinary strength of character, a star whose fame sprung from his inner beauty, winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1993, Mandela visited Philadelphia to receive the Liberty Medal Award, along with F.W. De Klerk, a moment that glows even brighter now that he has passed for all those who were blessed to share it.

Former Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell remembered Mandela on Thursday, saying, “Without being melodramatic, it gave me chills, you know. This is one of the great men in the world, one of the great men in history, who did things and accomplished things that would’ve seemed impossible.”

Meanwhile, current Governor Tom Corbett also released a statement mourning Mandela and calling him a “colossus of freedom.”

Eventually slowed by illness, Mandela’s family says he fought to stay alive — the same way he had battled for so many causes.

But on this day, the heart of this noble man, who did so much to change our world, is at last stilled.

Eyewitness News spoke by phone with Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah in Washington shortly after Mandela’s death.

“I think he showed that no matter where you happen to be at at a particular moment in your life, there’s still an opportunity for you to achieve greatness,” Fattah said.

Fattah also added that he was blessed enough to have met Mandela on several occasions.

And with his legacy of peace and tolerance, Mandela managed to touch those all over the world.

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter also released a statement on Mandela’s passing, calling him “an incredible man.”

“The world has lost a great hero,” he also said. “Let us honor him by seeking to be as good as he was. And let us live by these words that he has left us for all eternity, ‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.'”

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