PITTSBORO, N.C. (WTVD) --As the world reacts to Muhammad Ali's passing, one Pittsboro man is reflecting on the opportunity he had to meet the "The Greatest" heavyweight champion.
Bill Clancy has been officiating boxing matches since 1982, although his love for the sport started well before then.
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"A friend of mine from fifth grade had posted an incident that I totally forgot about until he posted this on Facebook. We actually started organized boxing in the schoolyard in the fifth grade at a Catholic grammar school in upstate New York," he recalled with a smile.
Following in the footsteps of his grandfathers on both sides and his father, Clancy did some amateur boxing himself, before transitioning to a referee. Earlier this year, he was inducted into the Carolinas Boxing Hall of Fame, having presided over more than 2,500 professional matches in his 18-year career.
But out of all of his time in the ring, it's a moment outside of it that really stands out: when he got to meet Muhammad Ali back in 1994.
"I was invited to a thing called 'Corporate Fight Night.' It's a big fundraiser for inner-city, at-risk kids in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a big, black tie affair. And Muhammad Ali was the guest of honor. I was fortunate enough to meet him early that night. I got to meet him and it was just amazing! His persona, it's so hard to describe. Being in a room with a man like that and seeing all these multi-millionaire people gravitate towards him."
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Clancy says at that point, Parkinson's Disease had already robbed Ali of his ability to speak clearly, but that didn't stop the heavyweight champion from communicating.
"He could still communicate with people just looking in his eyes, just looking in his eyes! It's hard to describe, but if you were in the room with him and got to witness that, you'd know what I'm saying."
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Clancy describes this moment as an honor, being face-to-face with a legend he'd long-admired.. and not just for his physical accomplishments in the ring.
"A dear friend of mine has been a Muhammad Ali fan his whole life... and when Muhammad came to Shaw University in Raleigh my buddy went to see him. Reporters were asking questions about boxing and he was there to promote his book on Islam so he refused to answer questions about boxing. He said, 'I'm here to promote my book on Islam.' So when they kept asking questions, my buddy would give them the answers and Muhammad was so taken my buddy knew the answers that he spent time after the event was over with my buddy. He signed everything he wanted to have signed, talked to him, did magic tricks... but that's kind a guy he was."
Clancy also pointed to the stands Ali took up over the years, fighting for what he felt was right and standing up for his beliefs. That included fighting back against racism and promoting humanitarian causes, sharing words of wisdom that will live on, even in his earthly absence.
"It's a quote that I saw, and I think it epitomizes who he was, and I think this will be a part of his legacy. It's a quote that he had that said, 'I wish the world would love each other the way they love me,' and that to me is really what he was all about," Clancy shares.
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