My late grandfather Gilbert Samuel Mitula was a living legend and the greatest man I ever knew. He was a jolly fellow known to have been strong, audacious, bold, tough, loving and hardworking. He was an enigma. Even when alive, myths about him were flying around as if he were someone of the past. His nickname Odiero didn’t only come about following his Queen’s English and detest for brown Ugali; the one made from sorghum, millet and cassava – it was also because his strictness and attention to detail could only be compared to that of a white man. He dined like a king. When he would come visit us in Molo, mum warned: “Always eat sitting at the table.” By his standards, the table would be set with spoons, forks, knives, glasses as clean as air and all that shebang. Dining at his home, our shagz Asembo, was always an affair as classy as how a woman should carry herself at a date or worthy restaurant. He never settled for anything less than good food and a balanced diet, for him and anyone around him.
The 6 feet tall Mitula was stylish in demeanor and in actual sense. In his heydays, he would drive himself in his vintage Anglia car or sometimes ride a bike to and from his home to Bondo town just to buy Granny supplies. Kwaru walked with his head up high, at times wearing a hat or accompanied by a fancy walking stick. I also admired the many shades to his character. He was an illustrious patriarch, lover of equity and a charismatic public speaker. I remember the speech he gave at my father’s funeral twenty years ago as if it was yesterday. “Mary is my daughter and if the death of her husband will leave her lonely and homeless I want to tell the world that she has a home with me and I love her like I love all my children,” his strong voice roared.
He was quite disciplined, maintaining order and a simple routine all his life. He always woke up at around 6 a.m. to shower and read the newspaper at his office. Breakfast was served at 7 a.m. sharp. He would then perform daily chores that included milking cows, plowing and slashing napier grass for the animals at his farm. Granny helped facilitate his schedule. My earliest memory of Grand Dad was that he was a very strict gentleman who wouldn’t indulge himself in cheap talk. My mother had told me many stories of how stern a character he was. When they were young, being found crying, fighting or acting irresponsible was punishable by being thrown out of the house carried only by the ears. “Our ears always protruded because of that,” mum laughs at the memory.
Grand Dad was sharp, intelligent and a man of integrity. He was also a visionary who championed education and its value. He dedicated his life to community service, which automatically molded him into a man of the people. Starting out as an agricultural outreach officer and a land surveyor, he would later become an accountant and bursar with a career spanning over decades. He worked at Kangaru School, Siriba Teachers Training College and Kenya Science Teachers College (Nairobi), among other institutions. After retirement, he continued to work at several schools and churches as a volunteer.
He loved education and was supportive of the careers of every individual in his extended family. He made sure that each one of his ten children got quality education. He founded Nyagoko High School and served as a chairman on its board for 24 years. He also chaired the boards of many schools around the region like Maranda School and Lwak Girls High School, where my sister Pollyne schooled. She writes, “He was cool. When he came to school, he would always arrive on time looking sharp and cool driving his Anglia carrying with him a neatly packed basket full of all the things any school boarding kid would need. Plus pocket money!”
Grand Pa and Grand Ma were best of friends. They had been together for 73 years, since she was 13. He adored her to bits and would ask her to return home anytime she would be away on safari. Even in his sickest of days, he would always ask to see her. At hospital, she never left without assuring him, “We will see you tomorrow” and he never let her go without clutching her hands – something like “let’s preserve this moment forever.” They communicated with or without words. While still alive, the expert planner had already identified the exact spot where he would be buried and even started digging and partitioning it. He had identified Granny’s too for when the time comes.
Grand Pa died at 95 – he was the epitome of strength. At his 90th birthday party, I wanted in on the secret to long life. “Love all people, work hard, stay fit and stay away from debts, grudges and enemies,” the wise man summarized.