A chance meeting with a world leader was just not what I anticipated on January 20, 1993. It is still remarkable even today almost 20 years later.
The place was Washington D.C., in front of the Capitol building waiting for the Inauguration of our 42nd President, Bill Clinton.
I was a photographer for the New Britain Herald at the time, covering the Inauguration and its festivities that followed it.
The photographers who were actually covering the event had to go through security at 6am in the morning, a full 6 hours before the swearing in ceremony. After waiting in line since 4am to make sure I had gotten a good position I had finally made it to my position by in sub freezing temperatures. Before me was a sea of hundreds of chairs facing a patriotically decorated Capitol Building.
I was all alone when I noticed a man all by himself dressed in a suit taking a seat in the middle of all the hundreds of chairs right in front of the inaugural stand. This was at 9am, three hours before the proceedings were going to start. What a great image I thought to myself as I fired off a few frames of film. Now, I had to make my way down there to get his name to make the picture caption complete.
I walked over and stood next to him, and introduced myself and said it was an interesting picture of him with all the empty chairs around him. He said he liked to be out in the open as much as possible. He said his name was Nelson. Nelson Mandela.
I did not know a lot about this man, but I did recognize his name and where he was from, and his history of being in prison for 27 years. He motioned to me to sit with him while he waited for his family to arrive. We talked for about 10 minutes about what a great day this was to see an inauguration of an American President and the freedom we have here in the United States. His family arrived and my short time with “Nelson” was over as he introduced me to his family. As I stood up to leave I shook his hand and asked If I could take a picture of him. He said of course, and took two frames of his gentle face.
Little did I know he was going to be the President of South Africa a year later, holding the position for six years.
The Clinton Inauguration proceeded, and I got some great images throughout the day.
As I write this twenty years later, it is not the Clinton Inauguration that I remember as much, but the short quiet time that I spent with a gentle, quiet man, with a great smile. Nelson.