The late Ambassador Dr Bethuel Kiplagat will always be remembered for his charisma and fierce belief in the dignity of life that saw him earn the title ‘peace ambassador’, following his efforts to help broker peace deals in warring countries in Africa. And while all the above are commendable values and achievements, it’s his most basic role, that of a (present) father, that stands out the most to his family and especially his 46-year-old daughter, Sahondra (pronounced Sa-oo-ndra in Malagasy) Kiplagat.
“Today, as an adult, with all the various adult responsibilities, it amazes me that my dad had so much time for us, yet he handled significantly more things than I do – as an ambassador, permanent secretary or peace mediator with the Kenyan government or non-governmental organisations in various countries around the world.
Father being present despite work
His diplomatic role spanned several European countries at a time and yet I never at any time felt like he was absent. Even as a young adult pursuing studies in England, when my father was in England, he’d surprise me with visits at the university,” says Sahondra.
His decision to be a present dad, according to Kiplagat’s wife Honorine, stemmed from the fact that Kiplagat’s own father died when he was an adolescent. “He felt the gap left by his father, especially since he was the first-born son and I think that inspired him to always be there for his children. For instance, he considered dinner time sacred. To him, a family that ate together, stayed together. After going round the table asking everyone how their day was – he’d always finish with his last – we would discuss various other subjects and then we would pray,” reveals Honorine.
It’s not just his strong family ideals that Sahondra fondly remembers. According to her, her father was a lot of fun, a great cook, poet, bookworm and a regaling storyteller, with an ability to bring worlds and even difficult concepts alive.
“When I had difficulties understanding Math, my dad would take me for long walks. He’d then point out the different plants and birds to me, while explaining the mathematical concepts and that made learning fun for me. He always encouraged us not to necessarily bring home the highest mark, but rather do our best. I never felt any pressure academically to be a certain way. Moreover, he encouraged my interests in various things including my love for swimming and reading. Even as an adult, he and my mum still remain the best example of what marriage is about, having been together for 50 years,” Sahondra reminisces.
Honorine adds that the late Kiplagat was very intentional about how his travels impacted the family. Even with a busy diplomatic schedule, Kiplagat would meticulously choose which functions to attend in the different embassies in order to make time to be with the family.
Father leading by example
Sahondra adds that her father always led by example, establishing her and her siblings’ – Richard and Nirina – cues of right and wrong. His humility, generosity and desire to serve be it random strangers or his staff members in the civil service, also rubbed off on them.
“My father recognised ‘the divinity’ inside everyone, treating them as God’s children. I never grew up with racial, tribal or gender barriers. We were brought up fundamentally as Christians. Do good, love people, give,” she expounds.
“Surprisingly, it is only as adults that we later came to find out amazing stories of how my father had sacrificed his resources to help his staff members and others pay mortgages, school fees or even afford something as basic as lunch. He never boasted about it to us. He also taught us to say no,” she adds.
A year after his passing, Sahondra confesses his absence is greatly felt, “Life is never the same when you lose someone you were so close to and had such a fantastic relationship with and dad had such wonderful relationships with all of us individually. It’s hard. What helps me is my faith and hope that we’ll see each other again and death is not the end.”
To honour Kiplagat’s legacy, Sahondra, her mother and her siblings are planning to compile stories of how Kiplagat impacted the lives of the everyday people he met and worked amongst.
“During his memorial service, so many people offered to share their stories of how he touched their lives. We are hopeful that we will have the book ready in time for his birthday in November 2019,” she finishes.