Phetheni Ndhlovu protected her candle from the wind and danced joyfully under the stars at a gathering to honor the life of Nelson Mandela on Saturday.

A resident of Everett now, Ndhlovu grew up in KwaZulu Natal province in South Africa and knew Mandela as the father of her country.

“He was a great leader,” Ndhlovu said. “He asked for nothing from God but wisdom and taught us to pray for peace and reconciliation.”

The vigil for Mandela at the International Fountain at Seattle Center drew several hundred people Saturday evening despite the frigid temperatures.

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“He was a person for all time,” said the Rev. Samuel McKinney.

Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95, became a symbol of equality and freedom after emerging from 27 years in prison to be elected the first black president in formerly white-ruled South Africa.

He served as president for five years and was awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize along with President F.W. de Klerk, under whom apartheid was abolished.

Mandela was affectionately called Madiba, his clan name, and Father in his homeland.

The ex-boxer, lawyer and prisoner attempted to pave the way to racial reconciliation in his country with gestures of forgiveness, such as meeting with the widow of the man who ruled as prime minister when he was imprisoned.

Born in 1918 to a royal family, Mandela began his rise in the anti-apartheid movement when he helped form the African National Congress Youth League in 1944.

He was sentenced to life in prison on charges of treason and conspiring to overthrow the government in 1962. He was released in 1990 by de Klerk, who recognized that the years of white rule in South Africa were near an end.

As president, Mandela formed a Government of National Unity in an attempt to defuse racial tension, oversaw the writing of a new constitution and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human-rights abuses.

Alan Aderem,

a member of the African National Congress and president and director of the nonprofit Seattle BioMed, talked Saturday about Mandela’s effort to bring health care, housing and education to the poor.

“He was one of the most marvelous and greatest leaders the world has ever known. Madiba would want us to fight the good fight. Let’s finish the job.”

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.