Requiem mass for billionaire Wilfred Murungi held days after his odd burial

Family members of Eng. Wilfred M'iti Murungi during his memorial service at All Saints Cathedral. [Wilberforce Okwiri/Standard]
Two days after a funeral that was attended by only eight mourners, the family and friends of businessman Wilfred Murungi were yesterday accorded a chance to pay their last respects.

They sat pensively in packed pews at the All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi, singing hymns and listening as speakers remembered the life and times of the business mogul.

There were no printed eulogies during the memorial service.

Only a handful of the tycoon’s friends and colleagues and his youngest brother, spoke.

“He was good at playing sports such as football, tennis and volleyball. He was the first university graduate in Tharaka Nithi to obtain a degree in electrical engineering. Indeed, he was one of a kind,” said the brother, Geoffrey Mutegi.

Murungi was described as a family man, patient, kind, a giver, quiet and reserved; a hardworking and visionary man of few words but whose impact was profound.

Cigarette brand

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So focused was Murungi that he quit his well-paying job at British American Tobacco in 1984 to venture into the tobacco business after starting his own firm, Mastermind Tobacco.

He took on the multinational behemoth with his popular cigarette brand, Supermatch.

His journey took him to Congo when it was still called Zaire. There he hawked cigarettes in his old Land Rover after the allure of transacting in dollars proved to be irresistible.

While in Zaire, he also did consultancy work for a cigarette company.

“He drove around selling cigarettes and he was paid in dollars. In that town there were no good places to sleep so he slept on benches and in shelters where he used his money, piled up in bundles, as his pillow,” said Gitahi Karuro, Murungi’s friend from their high school days.

News of Murungi’s death filtered out on June 6 and on Tuesday he was buried in his home in Tharaka Nithi. He was 75.

Despite his affluence and influence, the low-key burial ceremony shocked villagers. But those who knew him said it was proof of a man who exhibited his introverted nature even in death.

Seven years earlier, a similar scene unfolded after Murungi’s wife died and he did not attend her funeral. Instead, he landed in a chopper at a primary school where the funeral service was being held, handed her body to her family and flew back to Nairobi.

“The way I knew him, he was not friendly with people he did not know,” said Mr Gitahi.

Stick together

Among those present yesterday were former NIS Director Michael Gichangi, former Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura, Busia Senator and former Attorney General Amos Wako, MPs Kareke Mbiuki and Moses Kuria, Muhoho Kenyatta and Romano Kiome, a former Agriculture PS.

Pastor Luke Jaoko from Nairobi Chapel gave the sermon and urged Murungi’s children to stick together.

“There has to be something bigger than death, and whatever that is, it has to be embraced and cherished,” he said.

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Wilfred Murungibusinessman Wilfred Murungi