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Valley man: Nelson Mandela changed my life

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

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.

About the Author

Martha is the traffic controller in the KTAR newsroom. Her full time role is that of Assignment and Breaking News Editor of KTAR News. She oversees daily Breaking News planning and over-the air execution, and puts together the elements that make it happen. She gathers and distributes daily news assignments to reporters and editors. She also reports on a daily basis, anchors news afternoons 1-2p and fills in as anchor occasionally during other time slots. She began working at KTAR in the winter of 2012 as Desk Editor and was promoted to oversee Assignments and Breaking News in 2014. During that time, she received two awards as a journalist. The first was the 2013 APTRA Awards, where she took home 2nd place for Best Serious Future in the "Recycled Orchestra." The second was a 2014 Edward R. Murrow Award for her collaboration in KTAR's Voice for a Better Arizona Series: Immigration - seeking solutions. In her piece, Martha profiled two Arizona sisters looking for the DREAM. Martha was born in Mazatlan, Mexico. She moved to Arizona in 1996 with her parents and younger sister and has lived here since. She attended Barry Goldwater High School in Phoenix and graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University in Tempe. Prior to working at KTAR news she worked in news and production at Univision Arizona in Phoenix. She also supervised the marketing, catering and public relations department at Hotel Araiza, 5-star hotel in Mexicali, Mexico. She has also been a personal trainer and aerobics instructor. When she isn't in the newsroom or behind the microphone Martha is an avid gym-goer and marathoner. She trains for two races a year and enjoys taking group exercise classes, such as kickboxing, indoor cycling and weight lifting. Martha is married and lives in Surprise, AZ with 2 dogs, Tasha and Elsa, and a cat, Sammy.


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