As Nelson Mandela was being groomed in 1993 to take power as South Africa's first black president, he toured the Bryntirion, Pretoria, presidential home with his 3-year-old grandson, paying little attention to its grandeur.
"Here was a historical figure going into what had previously been the residence of the ceremonial heads of state of the apartheid government with a 3-year-old child, not being impressed with all of this," said Dave Steward, former chief of staff for President F.W. de Klerk, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela that year.
"The real man was holding the hand of his grandson."
Those who knew the legendary figure, whose clan nickname was "Madiba," say that image speaks to Mandela's humility and charm, which was as powerful as his lofty goals for a multiracial South Africa and world peace.
Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95, had as many earthly passions as political ones: He was a notorious flirt, a boxer and a lover of ballroom dancing. His aristocratic charm mesmerized celebrities as well as everyday people.
"What you get is what you see," Steward told ABCNews.com in 2010. "He's not putting on an act.
"If he was just walking down the street or on the way to go into the Union Building, he would speak to the gardener and express genuine interest in his life," said Steward. "This would cut across all racial divides. He had just as much concern for the flight crew of the presidential aircraft as he would for anybody else.
"It was not an affected charm," said Steward. "He was incredibly thoughtful and considerate in his relationships with the humblest of people around him. He was a great reconciler."
Those who knew him said Mandela's sense of humanity and reconciliation sprang from the sense of duty that was part of his own noble African beginnings, as well as a life beset with hardship, loneliness and betrayal.
"I suspect that from the day that he committed to the struggle against apartheid, he meant genuinely to fully dedicate his entire life to that cause," said Bantu Holomisa, a member of the South African parliament and president of the United Democratic Movement.
"Little did he know the price he would pay," he told ABCNews.com in 2010. "A free South Africa became synonymous with his name, and that was what the public expected of him."
As a martyr for democratic South Africa, Mandela spent 27 years in prison, cut off from his four children.
Released from prison in 1990, Mandela emerged into a world in motion: Africa was engulfed in an AIDS crisis -- his son Makgatho and two other family members later died of complications from the disease -- and his own nation was poised to embrace majority black rule.
Mandela credited imprisonment with strengthening his character and giving him focus, and reconciliation with his white captors became a theme of his life.
Born July 18, 1918, in the Eastern Cape village of Transkei to a branch of the family known as the Left Hand House, Mandela was expected to become a traditional adviser to the chief of the 2.6 million-strong Thembu nation.
Sent to English schools where he was given the name Nelson, Mandela had a deep admiration for the principles behind the British parliamentary system.
As an activist with the African National Congress, Mandela led a general strike in 1950. He was later charged with treason in the longest trial in South African history.