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Norris Barker (tan shirt) is shown in South Africa in 1994. (afridom.com)

PHOENIX -- In 1990, Norris Barker was in a bad spot in his life.

"I was a bitter person after a divorce and I had a business in Wichita, Kan. and I lost that business," he said." I lost all the possession I felt were important to me."

Barker talked to a friend who ferried planes to different African nations and decided to tag along. It was on that trip his life changed forever.

"Since the moment I met him at the International Trade Center in Johannesburg, I fell in love with (Nelson) Mandela," he said.

"I modeled myself after him. He's my role model. He's my mentor and he's my idol."

Barker was lucky enough to meet the recently-freed Mandela and his then-wife, Winnie on Oct. 7, 1990.

"He changed my life," Barker said.

Having already fallen for South Africa, Barker traveled the rest of the continent. He's been to a total of 16 African nations, is a South African citizen and his wife hails from South Africa. Barker also owns a business there.

Barker, who now lives in Carefree, Ariz., still has numerous ballots from the 1994 election that saw Mandela elected as the nation's first black president following nearly 30 years in captivity.

"I've been selling these for 20 years now," Barker said. "I still have a lot of ballots left."

Barker donated several framed ballots during a ceremony for the first statue of Mandela in the United States.

While the Carefree math teacher said he was "saddened" by Thursday's news of Mandela's death, he said the legacy of "Madiba," as Mandela was known, will live on.

"Mandela is going to be in my memory forever. He's changed my life personally and I know he's changed the lives of millions and millions of other people, not just in South Africa, but all through Africa."


To learn more about Barker, click here.

Martha Maurer, News Editor

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