A crestfallen father, a shattered but stoic family celebrating a father, and friends, neighbours and government officials decorating a gallant citizen who had completed his race.
This was the scene at the Kabarak University grounds yesterday as the nation bid farewell to JonathanToroitich Moi, the eldest son of Kenya’s second President Daniel arap Moi.
For hours, individuals from all walks of life paid glowing tribute to the man described as humble, generous, a dedicated family man, a farmer and rally driver – a role he played with so much zeal, immortalising him in the hearts and minds of Kenyans.
From early morning, the close knit Kabarak community made its way to the university’s graduation square waiting, patiently to see for the last time the man they fondly referred to as JT.
All through the ceremony, intricate details of the man came to fore, further cementing JT’s reputation as a true man of the people, never shying away from lending a hand to neighbours in need of help.
But under the grey clouds heavy with rain that provided respite from the harsh sun that barely weeks earlier had scorched the ground dry, it was his father’s tribute that brought tears to eyes of those in attendance.
“I have lived a full life and my only sadness is that my beloved son did not. No father should bury their child,” the former President said of his son. “I can picture our heavenly father rushing to greet and hug his returning prodigal son, with Jonathan’s late mother, Lena, dancing with joy.”
As the tribute was read by Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, branches of splendid palm trees within the larger compound swayed from side to side to a slow-blowing breeze, perhaps they too bowing to the fallen legend following a night of heavy rains.
None of this though was enough to sooth grieving hearts.
“Dear son, I sincerely thank God for giving me a son like you. You were not perfect, and you made mistakes… but you were blood of my blood, and you had a great loving heart. Stay well son until we meet again,” Moi added.
Earlier, the drizzle and chilly weather set the tone for the day, some cheer was provided by the bouquets of flowers all around the compound in shades of cream, orange and white.
At 10:43am, the aircraft carrying JT’s body touched down at Kabarak airstrip, minutes after the first flight ferrying the family members landed. Light drizzle punctuated an engulfing sadness as pall-bearers gently removed the coffin and loaded it to the awaiting hearse which made its way to the university grounds for the service.
At 11:15am, the hearse arrived at the university’s graduation square. Pall-bearers then lowered the coffin and laying to its secluded, colourful tent on a red carpet as piano keys added to the poignancy of the moment.
Then the hymn, ‘When Peace Like a River’ cut through the emotions, opening the stage for the family to make its way to their designated sitting places.
All through the service, villagers huddled together, whispering, each telling the other of their fondest memory of the departed man. For some it was the payment of a medical bill. For others it was the offsetting of accumulating school fees for a child.
For the family it was more than this. Much more.
With audacity and fluency, the first speaker, Wayne Kiprop Moi, JT’s son, took to the podium to address the mourners, again, brief to the point. In his unexpectedly short speech, the courage and bravery of his father’s extra-ordinary fearless character could be felt cutting through the pregnant silence.
“My father was a good man. Full of ambition, full of love and affection. His memory and energy will live on through us and we know he shall rest in eternal peace,” he concluded.
The other children, Leroy, Barbara and Clint, too stepped up to give their tributes. They remained stoic at a moment of great vulnerability, because, as they said, their legendary father helped them understand that ‘life can be hard, tough and sad’.
For his wife, Sylvia, dressed in a flawless flowing black dress, a black shawl, low-lying open shoes and a black hat, JT’s death has left her world dimmer.
“Our world will never be the same without you…you slipped away so fast and so sudden and left us dumbfounded,” she said, swaying under the weight of the loss that has befallen the family. “You had a big, warm, caring heart.”
Her daughter, Barbara Jebet, stood next to her mother, constantly rubbing her shoulder as she read her tribute.
“You were always so able, so fast and so strong. In your children’s eyes, you could do no wrong. You taught us so much, to show no fear, to always have fun and face the day with cheer,” another tribute read.
Friends remembered him just for his easy going nature and ability to interact with everyone. They said he never failed to say jambo (hallo) whenever he met you and he thrived on meeting and knowing new friends.
Jonathan died of cancer in the wee hours of Saturday morning. His death is the second tragic loss for the former President’s family in recent years. In 2015, Raymond, his brother, lost his 16-year-old son, to brain cancer.
“Disease has robbed us of a great husband, father, son, brother and friend and the pain is deep,” his wife said.
His sister Doris said: “You always protected us. You taught us humility and integrity. We will miss you very much. It is sad that you left without saying goodbye.”
As the funeral procession made its way to his final resting in his Kabimoi ranch, the skies opened up, but just briefly, bidding adieu to Jonathan Kipkemboi Toroitich Moi. Son. Father. Husband. Rally ace.
At 5:01pm, Mzee Moi dropped the soil on his eldest son’s grave, uttering a few words that would see him successfully cross into the next world. “I will see you… bye until we meet again,” his father said, and with these final words, JT was interred, with him went the clenched fist that often shot out his rally car window after every successful rally stage completion.
Then Gideon, took the spade and led four close kin in shoving soil on the grave.
At 5:24pm the grave was fully filled and a cross planted on it by Bishop Silas Yego of the African Inland Church, who had also officiated the main mass.
Three minutes later, Mzee Moi placed a white, yellow and red wreath on the grave. JT’s widow aSylvia put a heart-shaped wreath on the grave. The wedding vows they had said to each other all those years ago had come true- death had done them apart.
In the race of life, JT’s start time was 1954 and his end time was April 20, 2019, his stopwatch stopping just three-months shy of his 65th birthday. In the words of his father, he was always in a hurry, rally-driving, competing, driving fast…and loved speed.
And then the sun broke through, as if for just one more time, his big, honest smile came back. But this time shining down on those who had gathered to celebrate him through the evening sun, whose rays wiped the tears off the cheeks of those who had come to bury him.