THE BRONX - The loss of Nelson Mandela is being felt with heavy hearts around the world.

The former South African president passed away Thursday at the age of 95 after a long struggle with a chronic respiratory illness.

Mandela led the country from 1994 to 1999, becoming much more than just a political leader. He had emerged from 27 years in prison to negotiate an end to white minority rule in South Africa. His death now closes the final chapter in the country's struggle to cast off apartheid, a form of strict, racial segregation.

Mandela also made a lasting impact in the Bronx when he spoke at Yankee Stadium in 1990, saying "You now know who I am, I am a Yankee."

He made several other trips to New York City, including a visit after Sept. 11 and again in 2005 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented him with a key to the city.

"He achieved more than could be expected of any man, and today he's gone home," President Barack Obama said following the announcement of his death. "We've lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages."

New York Congressman Charlie Rangel knew Mandela and said he greatly admired the United States, and never held a grudge over the country's initial reluctance to take a stand against South African's apartheid regime.

Plans are already being made for Mandela's final farewell. A White House official has told sources that plans are in the works for Obama to travel to South Africa for a memorial service. His funeral is set for Dec. 15.