Ex-Gov. Ryan: Fidel Castro helped me meet Mandela

SHARE Ex-Gov. Ryan: Fidel Castro helped me meet Mandela

Ever hear the one about the Republican governor who begged a communist dictator to introduce him to a Nobel Peace Prize winner?

It may sound like a joke, but there’s no punch line here.

It’s the story of how former Gov. George Ryan met Nelson Mandela at the former South African leader’s home during a 2000 trade mission.

Ryan recounted the story Sunday during a memorial for Mandela hosted by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., at the Beloved Community Christian Church of God in Christ, where Rush is pastor.

It was the first high-profile public engagement for Ryan, 79, since he was released from federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., in January after serving about five years on racketeering and fraud charges.

Back in 2000, staff members for then-Gov. Ryan tried to get a meeting with Mandela during the trip but were rebuffed, Ryan recalled.

“We were told that Nelson Mandela was a busy man and that he only met with heads of nations and world leaders,” Ryan told the mostly full church at 6430 S. Harvard in Englewood.

But then someone in the trade group had an epiphany. Ryan, who had met with Cuban leader Fidel Castro the previous year, had maintained friendly enough relations with the communist dictator that his staffers were comfortable asking a favor of Castro, who was a close ally of Mandela’s.

“The staff I had called back to Cuba, to Fidel Castro, who had a long personal, affectionate relationship with Nelson Mandela over the years and asked if he could put in a good word,” Ryan said. “Don’t you know what happened? We had a meeting.”

Ryan described the life lesson he took away from their meeting at Mandela’s home.

“We basically listened to what he had to say, and those 30 minutes were filled with emotion and inspiration,” said Ryan, who said he teared up during the meeting. “He was a towering figure of courage tenacity and forgiveness. He wanted to help mankind, help his fellow man.”

But it wasn’t Ryan’s last interaction with the man credited with bringing down apartheid.

Several years later, after Ryan had imposed a moratorium on executions in Illinois, Mandela called while Ryan was contemplating commuting the sentences of inmates on death row.

“I hadn’t decided what my decision was going to be, and Nelson Mandela called me from South Africa and asked me to do what I [eventually] did and it had an impact on my actions,” Ryan said.

The Latest
Cook County Board President Preckwinkle is offering bold spending plans, armed with roughly $1 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money. But she needs workers to pull these plans off, and faces more than 4,000 vacancies. “We’re in the midst of a staffing crisis in health care,” she warned.
We’re dropping our paywall and making it free to read the news — but we’re still counting on your support.
El personal de PAWS Chicago viajó a Florida para rescatar a 53 animales tras la devastación del Huracán Ian.
Treshon Kates, 20, allegedly punched the driver four to five times about 9:50 p.m. Monday in the 700 block of East 67th Street.