PRIVOLNOYE, Russia (AP) — As Moscow paid last respects to Mikhail Gorbachev on Saturday, residents of the far-away village where he spent his youth lauded him too.

The Soviet Union’s reformist last leader, who died Tuesday at age 91, grew up in Privolnoye, a village of about 3,000 in southern Russia’s Stavropol region, the son of peasants. He retained the region’s distinct accent until his last days and held onto a village-bred boy’s common touch.

Although he went away to Moscow, about 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) to the north for university, he returned to the region and began rising through the ranks of the communist system, eventually becoming Stavropol’s top official as chairman of the regional Communist Party committee.

“He helped the village a lot when asked,” Sergei Bukhtoyarov, current head of Privolnoye and its environs, told The Associated Press.

“An ordinary person, he was kind, good-natured, benevolent. We met when he arrived here, here on the square and there were a lot of people. He always passed by, greeted everyone, talked to everyone. He was such a kind and sociable person,” Bukhtoyarov said.

A classmate from long ago said she saw promise in him even as a youngster.

“A jaunty, smart, well-read guy, active — took an active part in our school. He also took part in artistic performances, he was also the secretary of the Komsomol organization” for communist youth, said Maria Ignatova.

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