Muhammad Ali remembered by those who knew him least

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- To really know Muhammad Ali, you need to come to Louisville and talk to the people who knew him least -- people who had just a brush with The Greatest. Those random strangers can testify to his true character, as they did for CBS News, repeatedly.

Wayne Shemwell yelled at him across a shopping mall once.

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"I just yelled, 'Hey, Ali, I'm from Louisville, how you doing?'" Shemwell recalled. "He just looks up and says, 'Hey, fool, that ain't no way to greet somebody from your hometown. Come on down here and shake your hand like a man!' And so I'm like, okay, so I came down to shake his hand."

Kelly Jones ran into him at the airport, where Ali asked to hold his baby.

"And I can specifically tell you they played patty cake," Jones said. "Those are things that as a dad, you never forget your entire lifetime."

And Derek Northington pulled up next to Ali at a traffic light -- and couldn't get away.

"We stopped at the red light together, so we were side by side, and we talked through maybe three or four red lights," Northington told CBS News. "Well, that's the type of being he was."

Whether you served him soup, or simply rode with him in an elevator, Ali not only accommodated his fans -- he enjoyed them.

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"And anybody who met him you would have remembered that," Todd Foster said. "You'd want to remember that."

CBS News spent a full day talking to people who met Ali - about what made him so great. And not one mentioned boxing.

Instead, to these folks, Ali was gracious beyond compare -- even if you were just a heckler at the mall.

"He made you feel like you were the most important person in the world. And now he's passed on, but he'll never pass on in the hearts of those who had the opportunity to touch him. Never," Shemwell said, as he choked up. "I gotta stop."

Muhammad Ali -- we hardly knew ya.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.