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CLEVELAND -- Local leaders tell Channel 3 News they'll never forget their own conversations with Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at 95.

"You could feel the greatness of this man as you sat in his presence. You knew that he was a specially designed human being," said Louis Stokes, the former Congressman from Cleveland.

President Nelson Mandela's story of survival and triumph inspired men even 8000 miles away in Northeast Ohio.

"He never gave up. He never gave in. And he never gave out," said The Rev. Hilton Smith. "He had a vision and he was victorious in his vision."

Smith, now president of Cleveland's NAACP chapter, met Nelson Mandela in New York in the 90s. Mandela was out of prison and trying to raise worldwide support for the end of Apartheid and the arrival of multi-racial elections.

"[It was] one of the most important imprints on my life," said Smith. "[I told him...] Thank you for being a role model for the world and for people of all ethnicities..He smiled. He said I had a nice suit on. He liked my tie. And at the time, he liked my beard. And he just said thank you. And God bless you."

When he was inaugurated in 1994 as South Africa's first black President, Rep. Stokes was in the crowd.

"It was the most breathtaking event I've ever attended in my life," he said. "You just stood glued with the feeling that everyone had that day that here was some form of justification to this great man."

"Anybody that does not have that inner strength today..ought to stop and think of President Nelson Mandela," said Smith.

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