Karen Hospital co-founder Dr James Mageria dies of cancer
By Jacqueline Mahugu
| September 24th 2021
Dr James Mageria, board chairman of Karen Hospital and one of the founders of Karen Hospital died yesterday. He succumbed to cancer at about 6:25am.
He was the founder-director of Daystar University when it started as a small entity opposite Nairobi Hospital and was one of the people who bought the land that formed the big conglomerate that Daystar is right now.
“He was a wonderful man who shepherded me as I took over Daystar. A good human spirit and God-fearing,” Professor Laban Ayiro, Vice-Chancellor of Daystar University, told the Standard.
Dr Mageria was also the vice president of World Vision in Africa before he joined the Karen Hospital.
Speaking to The Standard yesterday, Dr Betty Gikonyo expressed sorrow at the loss. “It’s tough to be talking immediately after his death,” she said. They had worked together with her and fellow Karen Hospital co-founder, Dr Dan Gikonyo, for the last 24 years.
“It has been a journey. We have travelled together in the establishment of the Karen Group from the hospital as it is but we worked with him even before the hospital was started for close to 10 years before we came here,” she said.
“I would say he was both a personal friend of ours as well as a visionary with us because the three of us took up the vision of developing quality medical services for Kenyans. We discussed it many years ago and we were able to carry it through and execute it by the Grace of God. It required very hard work and commitment.“
What many may not know, however, was that Dr Mageria was responsible for the setting up of the first street lights in Nairobi, as Dr Dan Gikonyo told The Standard.
“Dr Mageria is an old student of Alliance High School in the early sixties,” said Dr Dan Gikonyo. “After that, he joined the police force and was well known for being one of the most honest police officers in the country. That is one thing that everybody remembers him for. He rose to become a commandant of Kiganjo Police Training College in 1966. From there he came to run the traffic department of Nairobi City.”
In his twenties, he became the chairman of the Agricultural Society of Kenya (ASK) during the time of Jomo Kenyatta. He was also one of the founder members of the Freedom from Hunger Walk.
He was also the CEO of Express Kenya in the early 80s, after which he worked in the United States of America with a group called Prison Fellowship International where he was involved with rehabilitating prisoners in the US and worldwide, and setting up centres for people who had served their terms and need rehabilitation. From there, he joined World Vision and became the vice president of World Vision in Africa before going on to be a co-founder of Karen Hospital.
Dr Betty Gikonyo described him as a great team player with great focus and great execution abilities and would see anything he started through to the end.
“Here at Karen Hospital, we had a person who was a giant in terms of experience, in terms of ability to communicate with stakeholders as well as to teach and mentor and he has left a big gap that we shall find difficult to fill,” she said.
She also described Mageria as very active and talked about how he would wake up very early, at about 4am every day to exercise and to pray and was consistently in the hospital before 7am.
“He was a man who kept time. He was very particular about time, routine and policies and he led our board very ably for 14 years,” she said.
Mageria was also instrumental in the establishment of the Karen Hospital Medical Training College, was a founder and board member of the Heart to Heart Foundation. He was passionate about charity and the welfare of the less fortunate in society.
“For quite a long time, he has been the chairman of the Heart to Heart Foundation, a medical charity that we started in 1993 and has been going strong, assisting children from needy families with heart problems,” she said.
Dr Mageria was a staunch Christian and was a retired elder at the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) but was also known to work across the board with other religions.
“He did not worry whether you were a Christian or a Muslim or Hindu. He would see the leaders from the Hindu, Muslim communities coming to the hospital to have a meeting with him and sharing a meal. He loved sharing meals with people in meetings because he said that was the best way of bonding,” said Dr Betty Gikonyo.
Dr Mageria also participated in the formation of the Kenya Constitution 2010, as one of the people who was an insider in the church wing of the clamour to change the constitution.
“He worked very hard and those who were there will remember him as being one of the people who worked but did not want any glory for it. All he wanted to do was to finish the job that he did,” said Dr Dan Gikonyo.
“Dr Mageria is a man of many firsts and one who in his 80 years has achieved a lot and was somebody who had no regrets. Whatever he needed to do, he did it in full stride and we are left behind having been good students and good mentees and we feel that he has really helped us to grow in those different spheres – whether it is Christianity, whether it is business, whether it is community work and being cognizant of the fact that good governance is very crucial to the thriving of people in all areas.”
He added that they remembered him mostly for his honesty and his humility and as a man who never wanted to live the high life despite qualifying for it. Mageria was also passionate about politics.
During the Ufungamano era when the clamour for multi-partyism was at its height, he was one of the most active members of the Ufungamano group which was chaired by former president Mwai Kibaki when he was the leader of the opposition.
“When he was a police officer, up to the time he rested, he was a man you could not entice, a man who could not sell his conscience and a man who stood by what was right and just until the last minute. He never believed in properties, he never believed in wealth and he would dedicate his time to areas where there was no monetary gain,” said Dr Dan Gikonyo.
Mageria was also a very senior member of the St John’s Ambulance where he served for many years.
Dr Dan Gikonyo summarized it this way:
“He was not a man of big properties, but as he kept telling me, had more than other people because he had all that he wanted. He was a man who was content with whatever he had in life and had no desires for these worldly things that we run for.
“He is somebody who I tried to emulate and follow in his footsteps. If nothing else, in the footsteps of working honestly, diligently and without any hint of corruption. In summary, if we had three of four people like him in the country, this country would get very far.”
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