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Boston officer recalls crossing paths with Mandela

Sgt. Brian Latson was working a patrol when he saw Mandela, a moment caught on camera

By Matt Stout
Boston Herald

BOSTON — Boston Police Sgt. Brian Latson was working a patrol out of the South End on June 24, 1990, when, almost by chance, he crossed paths with Nelson Mandela in a moment captured by Herald photo editor Jim Mahoney, then a staff photographer. Here's Latson's recounting of that meeting:

"He was going to do a big speech at the Hatch Shell, and hundreds of thousands of people showed up. I was working in the South End, District 4, at the time and he was staying at the Colonnade Hotel.

"We were in Copley Square, it was 7 o'clock on a Sunday morning, and we see a bunch of guys hustling around. It draws your attention. Mr. Mandela had gotten up and wanted to go walking ... but they didn't know where to take him and what to do.

"So I walked over to one of the bodyguards and asked, 'Can I meet Mr. Mandela?' He said, 'Sure, but you have to help us out. Where are we?'

"I used to work over at the Christian Science Center at Mass. Ave., and one of my buddies was in charge of security there. ... So I thought it would be a cool thing, given he was a religious person, to see the inside of the Christian Science church. I was able to call over and wake up my friend at security. ... I told him, 'I'm coming over with something big. I'll be over in five minutes.'

"They gave him a personal tour. By the time he got out, you guys (the media) had caught wind that he was walking out in the streets, so when we returned him to the Colonnade Hotel, I believe that's when the photo was taken. He was thanking us for taking him around.

"I have that picture in my house. It's up on my wall. So when your friends come over, and say, 'You actually met Mr. Nelson Mandela?' — that's one of the things you're very proud of. You straighten up your back. ... It was an incredible experience to meet him, to be of service to him. ... I wish I could have done more for him that day. But I think he got a little bit of a taste of what Boston was about when he was here. It's one of the most cherished memories I have."

Copyright 2013 the Boston Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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