If ever there was a political leader worthy of our profound admiration and thanks, it was former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95.

Mandela rose to prominence in his home nation as a vocal activist fighting against the evils of that country's apartheid practices. For his defiance he was sentenced to life in prison in 1964, spending much of his confinement on the notorious Robben Island. He became a world symbol while spending 27 years in custody for his belief that black South Africans should have the same rights as white South Africans.

While the lengthy jail time demonstrated Mandela's commitment to his convictions on racial equality, it was his actions upon his release that displayed his true greatness.

As former South African President F.W. de Klerk was courageously leading his country away from its racist policies, he ordered the release of Mandela in 1990. That release set in motion the inevitable election of Mandela as the nation's first black president four years later.

It would have been understandable had Mandela been bitter and vindictive. He may have been so privately, but he chose not to wallow. Instead of the usual to-the-victor-goes-the-spoils attitude of most politicians who win, Mandela chose to move the country forward. He spent the next five years as president attempting to unify his nation. He argued for reconciliation instead of retribution, all while picking apart the racist systems of government that had existed in South African for decades.

He left office in 1999, but Mandela remained as South Africa's senior iconic statesman and a global symbol for racial reconciliation.

His death in his Johannesburg home was not a surprise as he had been ill for some time. But it was a sad day all the same.

South African President Jacob Zuma said it best in a state television address, when he called it " ... a moment of our deepest sorrow. Our nation has lost its greatest son."

While South Africa has lost its greatest son, the world has lost one of its greatest, most inspiring leaders. In the coming days, there will be pomp and circumstance. His body will lie in state. There will be a memorial service and, finally, a state funeral on Dec. 15, which will appropriately be attended by President and Mrs. Obama.

There will be much sorrow and sadness expressed about his passing, but we believe that Mandela would counsel against making too big of a fuss. We think he might tell us to spare the tears and instead continue the difficult work of spreading reconciliation rooted in a profound respect for human dignity.