When I'm Gone - Remembering Hassan Rattansi

Written by By Elkanah Odembo, Prof. Godfrey Muriuki, Charles Njonjo and Vijoo Rattansi.

Dr Hassan Rattansi, philanthropist, educationist, sportsman and humanist, passed away a year ago on 1 December 2003. Born in 1921 in Nyeri, he rose from running a grocery shop to managing and developing one of Kenya's best-known educational philanthropies.

For his contributions to education, the disadvantaged and sport, he received the following awards: Honorary Doctorate, Doctor of Letters from the University of Nairobi(November 1998); The Silver Star of Kenya by His Excellency the President (December 1998) Lions Club Nairobi- Host Appreciation Award (1998-99); The President's Award, Kenya (January 1999); and Honorary Doctorate, Doctor of Humane Letters, from Kenyatta University (October 2002).

Dr Hassan Rattansi was a truly remarkable Kenyan. Awaaz remembers him through eulogies written by three of his compatriots, Elkanah Odembo, Prof Godfrey Muriuki and Charles Njonjo; and his widow, Vijoo. Smile, as he would have wanted you to, as you read a few of his many rib-tickling quips.




By Elkanah Odembo

The author is a former Director of Ufadhili Trust


I think about Hassan Rattansi. I think about him often. It is not clear to me why Dr. Rattansi is so often in my thoughts. Perhaps it is that so much of what I do on a daily basis touches on some aspect of what Dr. Rattansi represented and worked for. Peace, social justice, philanthropy, fairness, hard work, good governance, social responsibility, etc.

Often I have talked about the uniqueness of Hassan Rattansi. I am increasingly convinced that he lived a full life and that his life is testimony that there is still hope for mankind.

I miss his sense of humor and ability to laugh at himself and others. The things he would say about his lawyers, doctors, accountants. The wisdom of Hassan Rattansi was easy to detect if ever you spent any time with him. His ability to see and internalize the many opportunities and challenges that face Kenya today, and the generations to come. I don't know anyone who knew so much about so many different things. The economy, governance, peace and security, nature and conservation, culture, and human development are all issues Hassan read about and discussed passionately. It was the kind of passion that if found in some 100 or so Kenyans could truly bring about change in this society. I can imagine his reaction to the President's appointment of a "Dream Team" to deal with Kenya's inequalities. He would probably say something like "This team will be dreaming while the inequalities continue to rise".

Hassan was a great admirer of nature and all good things in God's world, and believed strongly in preservation and conservation of nature for future generations.

Hope is a great asset for mankind and Hassan hosted it well. It was amazing how a man could sustain such hope in the face of the unpleasant realities that we are faced with. Hassan believed that people matter. That they matter, irrespective of age, race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, creed or station in life. He also believed in the importance of preserving people's dignity regardless of the level of distress and destitution. What a gift!

Hassan's response to the fundamental injustices in our society was also unique. He was the ultimate reformer. He used his position in society extremely well. While committed to care giving, he also pursued change. Remedy and rehabilitation are important, but he also believed in reform. While he lived a life of service, he was also a champion of social development. In this way he served the true interests of the country and its people.

I listened to Dr. Rattansi speak at many events and meetings. What was consistent at each of the occasions was the warmth, reflection, inspiration, openness, directness and the quiet passion. He was the embodiment of the values and ideals of a social worker. But what impressed me the most about Hassan was the quality of the person in him. He had an incredibly balanced approach to life, people and events.

Encouraging others is not a thing that comes easily for most of us. For Hassan it was second nature. At many events that I attended with him he was considered the "Wiseman", combining the qualities of great attention to detail, while keeping focus on the big picture.

He truly was a quiet giant. He has built the Rattansi Educational Trust into a tremendous powerhouse institution with a remarkable track record of commitment to social justice. He gave a strong moral force to the work of local nonprofit institutions.

I would conclude by saying that for me there are two qualities that Dr. Hassan Rattansi has exemplified. The first is that he has served as an inspiration to continually challenge myself and to always reach a bit further. The second has been his strong moral compass, directing that there should be a sense of social justice and fairness, and making the world a better place.

Long live his dream