Friends, foes give Isaiah Kiplagat a moving memorial service
Fallen long-serving Athletics Kenya (AK) president, Isaiah Fundi Kiplagat, was eulogised as a sports administrator per excellence as mourners led by Deputy President, William Ruto, gathered for his emotional requiem service in Nairobi on Wednesday.
Tears flowed freely as politicians, past and present sports administrators, relatives and friends joined his family to mourn the leader at St. Francis ACK Church in Karen in the penultimate step of his final journey that will conclude with his burial at his Eldoret home on Friday.
In a true reflection of Kiplagat, who died at 72 after a long battle with cancer, friend and foe gathered to pay their last respects to the no-nonsense man who shaped Kenyan athletics to the pride of the nation it is today in his uninterrupted 24-year reign at the helm of AK.
When his dark hard wood casket was wheeled into the church by his children as pall bearers led by his grand children, mourners who had braved the cold weather at the leafy suburbs of the Kenyan capital could not hold back tears as they came to terms with his demise.
Even in his death Kiplagat, achieved two milestones with the Government through Ruto promising to address the challenges facing cancer patients as well as announcing Ksh1b will be set aside annually by the State to reward athletes he fought for most of his life.
“I bring my sympathies and condolences from my family, and on behalf of the President who is in Mombasa and the Government.
“Kiplagat was a great Kenyan and made a great impact in our country. Kiplagat and I went to the same high school though he was 20yrs ahead of me and he left a legacy that is evident till to date.
“I learnt two things from Kiplagat, if you decide to do something, give your whole and be committed to it. He always did that and it was impressive,” the Deputy President told mourners.
“The other thing I learnt from him is to say No! It is hard word to pronounce especially for us politicians and does not come easy but one has to firm with their decision. He could not agree to something he could not do,” Ruto added in a statement that brought brief cheer to the sombre ceremony.
“The second issue I want to talk about is that cancer has killed a lot of our people more than Aids and any other diseases in the country.
“We have decided to address the challenge of cancer we are going to equip hospitals all over the country to enable Kenyans to access treatment easily. In addition cancer patients will be covered the NHIF scheme. Treating cancer is not easy and does not only take toil in your health but also in your pocket,” the deputy leader asserted.
“I would like to urge Kenyans to get screened early for cancer its manageable if detected early,” Ruto advised.
“Kenya is known better for sports and athletes should be protected and feel appreciated. Rewarding our sports men and women should not just be guess work then take them rounds trying to figure out how or what to reward them.
“That is why we have set aside Ksh 1b every year to honour their great achievement and flying our flag high. This will also be a way to honour Kiplagat who fought hard for the athletes,” he announced.
Sports, Culture and the Arts Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Hassan Wario-who in January last year at the SOYA Awards Gala – called on administrators, including Kiplagat who was present that had stayed in power for long to quit their posts had kind words for the record-serving AK boss.
“It’s a sad day for the sports fraternity, but the Kiplagat I know is busy organising another successful team where he is gone. Kenya became number one during the World Championships which has never happened before.
“When the Junior Championships will be held here next year, we should remember it was this man’s great effort that we were able to win the bid to host. We pray for him and may he go to paradise and remember us,” the Cabinet Secretary who welcomed the Deputy President to address the mourners eulogised.
“Kiplagat did a lot for athletics I also served with him and we went to Beijing 2008 Olympics together. He could not stand athletes not being happy and uncomfortable. He always put them before every decision he made.
“How the athletes were handled at the Rio Olympics was something he would not be proud of. Kindly, I ask please take care of our athletes and Kiplagat will surely be in peace,” his predecessor at the sports ministry, Professor Helen Sambili who once tasted the wrath of the outspoken AK boss underscored.
Reverend Joyce Kariuki presided over the service that saw his only son Moses Kiplagat, deliver the eulogy.
Present at the service included current AK leadership led by Lt. Gen (Rtd) Jackson Tuwei who was joined by suspended officials, vice-president, David Okeyo, CEO Isaac Mwangi and former honorary treasurer, Joseph Kinyua.
Alongside Kiplagat, Okeyo and Kinyua completed the trinity of AK bosses that turned the federation from a struggling organisation with a Ksh2m deficit to the richest in the country before the IAAF Ethics Board ended their long stay last November.
Mwangi was plucked from Strathmore University to be the CEO of AK three years ago before the Ethics Board suspended him in February.
National Olympics Committee-Kenya chairman, Dr. Kipchoge Keino, who is facing a probe into the Rio 2016 fiasco, arrived at the service later and sat quietly at the back to follow the proceedings as he came to pay his respects to a leader he engaged in many a battle over the athletes.
“We have lost a great leader, although it was rough between AK and Nock but we managed to work out our differences for the growth of athletics. Personally as a friend, I will miss him,” he candidly offered when the service was over.
Nominated MP and The National Alliance party chairman, Johnstone Sakaja, Kikuyu MP, Ferdinand Waititu, former football president, Sam Nyamweya and former Maendeleo ya Wanawake chairperson, Zipporah Kittony were among the dignitaries present.
-Scores of Tributes –
Supported by her sister Grace Karwirwa, the widow, Joan Kiplagat tried to put a brave face and read her husband’s tribute although she was constantly interrupted and had to start from the beginning more than thrice by emotions.
“I really don’t know what to say, but since something has to be said, let me say ‘Goodbye my friend and husband.
“What I know for sure is that in my next life, I want to be married to you, so please don’t think even that you can get rid of me that easily. My life with you was a fairytale. You loved me more than words can describe. I can only say I love you, but I cannot begin to compare your love. I tried,” she rendered in her moving tribute before being overcome by grief.
Former Cherangany MP and Presidential Advisor, Joshua Kutuny who was also a nephew to the deceased spoke on behalf of the rest of the family members.
“Isaiah was a person you would associate with. He was a leader and a mentor, on behalf of Kiplagat I would like to apologise if he wronged you let him rest in peace with no hard feelings from anyone.
“Uncle cut across in all fields, even when I was a parliamentarian and do something wrong he would call and advice me in a very fatherly manner. I really admired that in him. Rest in Peace,” he added.
Among those who spoke at the service include Okeyo and Nyamweya who recalled Kiplagat as a no-nonsense administrator who did not shy away from speaking his mind and reprimanding those who went against his vision to develop sport.
“Kiplagat was one of our mentor, he never shy from speaking his mind and correcting us when things go south. He contributed a lot in our various federations trying to make them successful too like athletics,” the former football boss added.
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