The passing of Nelson Mandela has led to an upsurge of sentiment throughout the world as to the deep nature of the loss.

There are times on this earth when we are defined by who we shared our time here with. Nelson Mandela was the icon of this generation in so many ways.

He was no saint and would be the first to admit that. He was a revolutionary who plotted violence as surely as George Washington did against his oppressors.

He was not a great father or husband as he often admitted himself, wedded to the revolution and what it took to confront white supremacy in his native land.

His family, as The New York Times revealed last weekend, is an embarrassment, scuffling with each other to cash in on his fame and many seemingly corrupt as they do so.

The country Mandela leaves behind is far from perfect, with domestic crime soaring and corrupt leaders such as Jacob Zuma taking his place.

But despite all that and the lack of a shining city on a hill, Mandela is one of the world's greatest figures of this or any generation.

To have spent 27 years behind bars, breaking rocks for much of that time, would have destroyed any other man. He was almost blinded by the sun every day and its reflection off the rocks.

But Mandela was still able to retain his position as the world's prisoner of conscience and become a global figure while laboring in a South African jail.
Very few would have maintained their sanity or indeed their political bearing in such circumstances.

Mandela was different. He did not bow down or concede to his captors.

Instead he internalized his plight as part of the struggle for freedom. He emerged not broken in spirit, but soaring and complete with a message of extraordinary hope for his people.

It was incredible that he was able to assume such inspired leadership after such a dreadful ordeal.

We watched in amazement as he embraced his captors and their leaders, sat down with the white supremacists and forced them to admit their policies and violence had not worked.

Throughout it all he carried himself with a regal bearing, but never forgot the poor of Soweto and other townships which had suffered so badly.

In the end his long walk to freedom inspired others to seek that path too, and wrote large for future generations what courage and political skill are all about.

Mandela was 71 when he emerged from prison, an age many would seek to retire, but he was only beginning.

His influence was worldwide, including on the Irish peace process where his own road map for peace proved a powerful example for those such as Sinn Fein struggling to put their own political drive together.

He will be missed like all great men and women are missed, as a shining light in a sea of mediocrity which encompasses most world leaders.

The millions who are turning out in South Africa for Mandela's funeral and commemorations know that he changed their lives as fully as any one man ever could.

Remember the day the South Africans went to vote for the first time with all their citizens eligible to do so. It was one of the greatest days on earth, and Mandela made it happen.

Quite simply, Nelson Mandela is taller in his grave than most world leaders standing up.

May he rest in peace.