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Fare thee well Bob, the man who touched lives

Rebecca Mutiso and Seth Onyango @PeopleDailyKe

The life of departed Safaricom chief executive Bob Collymore was celebrated yesterday in a memorial ceremony that painted a picture of a man who had come to Kenya to head a company but ended up changing the country.

The indelible mark that Collymore left in the lives of many Kenyans was clear as everyone who took to the podium at the All Saint’s Cathedral spoke of his innate ability to unite people and bring out the best in everyone he interacted with. 

The memorial service presided over by Right Rev Canon Sammy Wainaina, brought together government leaders, top politicians, corporate world chiefs and ordinary Kenyans to celebrate Collymore, who headed the region’s most successful company from 2010 to July 1 this year, when he succumbed to cancer.

 In a moving tribute to her husband, Wambui Collymore chose to read a speech her husband had presented to a group of school children in 2013 which he adopted from Dr Suess’s book, “A person’s a person no matter how small”.

Wambui said her husband had left with the loudest applause and instead of inviting people to observe a minute of silence to honour him; she fulfilled his last wish by asking the congregants to listen to an eight-minute classical piece, Adagio for Strings, by Samuel Barber. It was one of the most remarkable memorial services Kenya has witnessed.

Few days

President Uhuru Kenyatta remembered Collymore as a man who “truly lived a life not just in service to himself or family but in service to humanity.” 

“Bob loved four things: He loved Kenya; Safaricom as if it was his own and his wife. I won’t tell you what the fourth thing is but I think you can all guess,” he said.  

Uhuru’s recollection of Collymore’s last days presented a peek into the anguish that was going on in his mind before he succumbed to blood cancer at the age of 61.“Collymore called me last month and told me he needed to talk to me urgently. I told him I was abroad and it was 2 am. 

He told me: I know I promised you that I would hang on (as Safaricom CEO) for another year but I don’t think I am going to keep that promise. Please don’t tell anyone about it. Let us talk when you get back.”

 When he came back, the President visited him last Thursday and with a smile on his face, Collymore calmly broke the news that he only had a few days to live and he could not keep the promise of heading Safaricom for a year.

Influenced policies

“He told me that he had tried everything and had accepted his fate­ – his chapter was closed. We spent the whole afternoon, about three to four hours, talking about his vision and hope for Safaricom and my legacy and corruption and how I could renew the moral fabric of our country that had collapsed.

When I asked him if there was anything I could do for him he told me: ‘I don’t need anything. Just make sure that you take care of Wambui and the children.”

Deputy President William Ruto described Collymore as “more Kenyan than many of us” because he not only made an impact at Safaricom but also influenced government policies in education and national security.

“When we were thinking about re-engineering our education system we looked at the fact that Collymore was a man who was running the most profitable company in Kenya and yet he did not have a degree.

In 2014, when we were discussing coming up with a new surveillance police communication system we talked to him,” the DP said. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said Collymore stood out because he was a great leader who was not afraid to make tough decisions.

“ If anyone of us here is able to evoke just a fraction of what Bob did today then you will be a lucky human being,” he said. In her tribute, M-Pesa Foundation Academy student Ashley Chepkorir, eulogised  Collymore as a father figure to the orphans, having met him at a parking lot and forged a life-long relationship.

“In 2017, I told him that when my friends were talking about their dad, the first person who came to my mind was him. In his reply, he said ‘that was the most heartfelt message he has ever received…just like me, I refused to let the past decide his future,” she narrated.

Chris Musando, who represented Safaricom staff hailed Bob for his passioned effort to empower people living with a disability .

“He was a champion for diversity and today there are 129 people living with a disability working at Safaricom. Calling him a good man would be a gross understatement. He is a legend. Legends never die,” he said.

Former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth who spoke on behalf of Bob’s friends said they had formed a group called “Boys’ Club” in which the late Safaricom CEO was the ‘captain.’

Human face

It was made up of himself, businessman Ally Khan Satchu, Radio Africa’s Patrick Quarcoo, Citizen TV presenter Jeff Koinange, Scangroup CEO Bharat Thakrar, British High Commissioner Nic Hailey and KCB’s Joshua Oigara.

Acting Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph read an emotional poem dubbed My Funeral which Collymore had insisted that it be recited at his memorial.  

Outgoing British High Commissioner Nic Hailey remembered Collymore as a corporate leader who used resources at his disposal to make a difference in the lives of others without taking credit for it.

 At the corporate front, Collymore was remembered as the CEO who brought a different kind of leadership to Kenya; namely ­ business with a human face.

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