(NBC NEWS) -- Nelson Mandela now "belongs to the ages," President Barack Obama said
Thursday in mourning the late South African leader and icon.
"He no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages," Obama said in brief remarks at the White House.
"We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela ever again," the president said. "So it falls to us, as best we can, to carry forward the example that he set."
Obama paid tribute to Mandela shortly after the South African government announced the former president's passing at the age of 95. Obama paid tribute to Mandela in personal terms, noting that his first political action was a protest of South Africa's apartheid policies.
"I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life," Obama said. "Like so many around the globe, I cannot imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set."
He added: "So long as I live, I will do whatever I can to learn from him."
During a trip to Africa earlier this year, Obama visited the jail cell where Mandela was imprisoned for decades at Robben Island. Obama was unable to meet with Mandela, though, due to the former South African president's fragile state of health.