A chance meeting with Nelson Mandela in St. John's, just months after his release from captivity, is something veteran human rights activists Evelyn Riggs and Linda Ross will never forget.

Mandela was en route to Ottawa in June 1990 when his plane made a refuelling stop. The South African leader came to Canada to express his thanks in a speech to Parliament.

When Riggs and Ross, who had been active in the anti-apartheid movement through the 1980s, and their friends learned of the stopover, they rushed to the airport in the hope of meeting him.

' I think I'm the first Newfoundlander and Labradorian who got a kiss from Nelson Mandela.' - Evelyn Riggs

The activists pleaded with security to deliver a note to Mandela, asking if he'd come off the plane to meet them. To their delight, he did.

Riggs said before Mandela went outside to greet the crowd, she got the chance to ask Mandela's then-wife Winnie if she would be able to meet Mandela.

"She put her arm around my shoulder and just walked me straight over to where he was … and I just held out my hand and I said, 'Thank you so much for all that you have done,' and he just took my hand and then he grabbed me and kissed me on both sides of my cheeks and gave me a huge hug and said, 'No, thank you for all of your support — you and your people,'" Riggs said.

"What a special moment in my lifetime, and the trivia to all of this for me is that I realized, hey, I think I'm the first Newfoundlander and Labradorian who got a kiss from Nelson Mandela."

Ross said the crowd was overwhelmed when Mandela and his wife came outside.

"And [then] here we were outside meeting Nelson Mandela, and he and [then-wife] Winnie came out and spoke and thanked for us for all the work we had done," said Ross.

"Actually having the opportunity to see him in person and knowing that what he had gone through in his life — every time I retell the story, I get emotional," said Ross.

"I get choked up … He has been one of those people that is such a motivating factor and force in your life."

Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95.

Ross said the world will likely never see a leader like Nelson Mandela again.