“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Considering the way he lived his life, these timeless words of the late US President John F. Kennedy must strike a chord with Bernard Waweru. That he worked at the University of Nairobi for a record 42 years is testament to the dedication and loyalty that was the mantra of his life.
Until his demise on January 7, 2020, at The Nairobi Hospital, Waweru was the acting academic registrar at the country’s premier university — a post he held since 2008.
Here is a man whose life was intertwined with that of UoN, having studied at the institution in the 1970s before he started working there in 1976 as an administrative assistant. So indispensable was Uncle Ben — as he was known in certain quarters — that the university asked him to stay on even after retirement.
“He was a stickler for procedures and dedicated. That is why the university retained him even after retirement,” new UoN vice-chancellor Stephen Kiama, said.
An avid lover of chocolates, he was economical with his words, only speaking when necessary but to great effect. “He was a good listener, listening to me even when I spoke gibberish. However, when he spoke, your eyes widened in awe,” his daughter Nungari recalled.
Indeed, as a stickler for rules, Waweru was consistent in the way that he spoke sparingly and approached everyone humbly — even to those working under him in the Academic Department.
“I would meet him and greet him, calling him boss. He would ask me why I was calling him boss and say that I was the boss,” one of his colleagues recounted.
Outside of his official duties, Uncle Ben was a mentor to many young people in whom he never hesitated to instil the values of selflessness.
“He was an advocate of community work and would always emphasise to us the importance of volunteering,” said Maxwell Oduor, a UoN student and member of the institution’s chapter of the Kenya Red Cross Society.
Having amassed decades of experience in volunteering, no one was in a better position than Waweru to advise on the benefits of volunteering. He walked his talk as evidenced by his other interests as the chair of the development committee of the Kenya Red Cross Society, besides being a member of its national executive committee.
Apart from being a father of two lovely children (Jeff and Nungari), he was also a fatherly figure to children from Shelter Street Children Rehabilitation Centre where he was the chair of the board.
“He was influential in providing opportunities for many of these children in different schools. His integrity attracted sponsors who referred to him as a people person,” said Mary Muiruri, the executive director of Shelter Street Children Rehabilitation Centre.
A father, a volunteer and an academic registrar, these were the hats that Uncle Ben wore, spurred on by his integrity, humility, honesty, dedication and loyalty. As a befitting end to Thursday’s memorial service to celebrate his life, his beloved wife Nancy dedicated Celine Dion’s hit song ‘Because You Loved Me’ as an appreciation for all the decades the two spent together.
As the song reverberated throughout St Paul’s Catholic Church in Nairobi, the impact of Waweru on many people’s lives was reflected in the lyrics. Many are those he stood by at all times. Many are those to whom he brought joy. Many are those he lifted up. Albeit a gaping hole has been left by Uncle Ben, his beloved wife issued a rallying call to everyone.
“Each one of us should emulate the qualities of Ben. All of us should emulate his legacy,” Mrs Waweru said.
Indeed, Waweru has run his race and fought a good fight. Having worked tirelessly for 42 years, he has taken a well-deserved rest with the Lord awaiting his worthy reward for fulfilling the purpose for which the Maker brought him into this world