What would people say about you if you died today?


On a regular Monday morning, as I waited for an appointment at The Kampala Serena Hotel, a text notification popped up on my phone screen. 

It had an attachment, labeled in bold; ‘FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE’. 

The person who sent the message is a friend I made while working in Nairobi, one who hadn’t been in touch for nearly four months. This might explain why I didn’t treat it as serious or urgent and moved on to scrolling through other chats. 

My appointment sent a message communicating their delay and I found time to read my message from Nairobi. That is how I learnt of the passing of Bob Collymore, CEO of Safaricom. 

The knowledge was in equal parts expected and painful. I thought of his dear wife, Wambui, whom he loved endlessly and unceasingly. Then my mind raced to Jeff Koinange, a dear friend of his. 

The times I’d met Jeff, he always mentioned Bob in his stories and hailed him as an example of good friendship.

I also thought of Safaricom, the large telecom he led. Their brand invariably built around his meticulous decisions, humour, vision and passion for changing Kenya. 

While I’d braced myself for a week of somber and sorrowful messages, the way Bob’s friends eulogized him provided me with a whole new perspective on how to view death. 

To start with: Jeff, and a group of Bob’s friends that he aptly named the Boys' Club, shared anecdotes that painted a beautiful collage of the kind of life Bob lived. How he cared about what they wore, how he cared about their well-being, when he invested both time and resources into sustaining friendships. 

These attributes look and sound easy but can be a tall order when you head a large conglomerate like Safaricom. 

This taught me some good lessons on managing the aftermath of my own death. 

I have always thought of death as the logical conclusion to life. There’s no two ways about it. We will all die, regardless of wealth, health or status.

I await my own death because it is something that is coming – maybe soon, or perhaps later - without focusing on it too much. Instead, I focus quite a lot on the time I spend here. 

When they ask at my funeral whether I lived a full life, I want the answer to be affirmative. As it was at Collymore’s. 

I mean, we all wish to be remembered as having made an impact when we go, we all want glowing tributes and lots of flowers and friends that can sit on a TV bench on Wednesday to talk about all the ways in which we made their days better but, are we putting in the work required? 

That’s a puzzle Bob Collymore seemed to solve very well. 

Thieves plundering state/company resources to amass personal wealth and create a comfort for their lives also want a clean front row at their funerals, with caskets wheeled into church and sermons on how their life was lived according to the word of God. 

Fathers/mothers - more often, fathers - who abandon their children want the same children to show up at their funerals and say nice things about them. About how they were loving Dads, when in fact they didn’t offer their time. 

Bob is gone. Many of us will follow him, probably not with as much warmth and glowing tributes as his send off ceremony had but we can strive to build great lives and subsequently, even greater legacies. 

Rest easy Bob! 

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