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Obituary of Irish missionary: Ngilu, Malombe meet for the first time since last year’s elections

Irish missionary Robert Anthony Woods commonly referred as Miti was buried at St Charles Lwanga Boys’ Secondary School, Ithookwe in Kitui Central on June 13 this year.
Kitui Governor Julius Malombe and his predecessor Charity Ngilu during the burial ceremony of former St Charles Lwanga Boys’ Secondary School, Kitui, the late Anthony Woods in the school compound on June 13, 2023. Woods taught at the school for 32 years.MWINGI TIMES/Paul Mutua

Although it is over a month since his burial, the ceremony marked significance by attendance of near and far mourners who came to bid farewell to a man of epitome of humility, integrity, selflessness and love for humanity.

In an unprecedented rare show of unity, both Kitui Governor Julius Malombe and predecessor and bitter political archrival Charity Ngilu shared the podium together at the ceremony for the first time since the last general elections.

Ngilu did not defend her seat in the elections but supported former senator David Musila as her preferred successor. However, Musila was trounced by Malombe at the ballot.

Malombe and Ngilu sat next to each other, and from time to time, they exchanged niceties to the curiosity of onlookers.

The Narc party leader and former Cabinet Secretary was the first to speak before inviting the governor. She addressed him in humility, respect, honour and decorum, winning broad praise and acknowledgement from the Catholic clergy, faithful and entire mourners from other different faiths.

“Your eminence bishops, your excellency Dr Malombe, Kitui Central MP Makali Mulu, Catholic sisters from within and outside the country and all mourners, I am humbled to salute you this afternoon as we gather here to give our own, and indeed a selfless man who focused his energies in helping the vulnerable and needy in the society. Tony or Miti as we used to call him, will remain in our souls as a great servant with unique virtues,” the former governor began her tribute.

Ngilu said the burial stood special away from politics where leaders of diverse ideologies travelled near and far to eulogise and extol the fallen warrior as a friend to many who wanted people to live happily. “He was concerned about the welfare of the poor and disadvantaged students and always helped them to pursue their dreams in education,” she said.

The former governor then extended an olive branch to Malombe in formation of a foundation in honour of the Irish educationalist, who for three decades kept St Charles Lwanga Boys’ Secondary School, Kitui in academic celebrity.   

Ngilu said Miti would be hugely missed by her as “her immediate close neighbour at her Ithookwe village home in Kitui Central, those he worked with, religious and lay, the many he helped in various ways, his former students and teachers, and his wide circle of friends in Kenya, Ireland and around the world”.

When Malombe and Mulu stood to speak, they said setting of the foundation was a befitting mode to give Woods in his eternal rest.

The governor said all persons who studied under Woods had special characteristics of being polished, disciplined and organised. The governor then joined St Charles Lwanga’s old boys association led by Michael Nzule, Ngilu, Makali, bishops Joseph Mwongela (Kitui), Dominic Kimengich (Eldoret), John Mbinda (Lodwar) in unanimous agreement to having the posthumous recognition of Woods.  

“How can we preserve some of the things he believed in, things he valued? I wish to agree with governor Ngilu that we need to support that foundation so that through it fees can be paid for a lot of disadvantaged students,” Malombe said.

Woods or Tony as he was more commonly known was born in Ireland on April 13, 1944. He grew up and went to school in Doon village, Co Limerick in Ireland.

On completion of his secondary schooling, Tony moved to Dubin where he completed his BA degree at University College Dubin (UCD). On graduation, at the age of 21, Tony went to Cameroon where he taught for two and half years.

In 1968, he moved to Kenya where he was assigned to St Charles Lwanga, Kitui as a teacher. He worked under Fr. Steve Donohue, the first headmaster of the school who handed over leadership to him shortly thereafter. Woods did not sit for an interview "as his qualities were more than just a teacher".

His abilities endeared the Catholic Diocese of Kitui to entrust the school leadership to him as Fr Donohue took other responsibilities with the diocese.

The late Tony lived in Kenya for 55 years of which 32 years he lived in Kitui. For three decades, he taught at St Charles Lwanga Boys’ Secondary School Kitui.

After retirement, he proceeded to work briefly at St Austins Academy in Nairobi and later worked with the Mercy Sisters as an administrator of their hospital in Mutomo. In 2000, Tony moved to Turkana in the north west where he lived for 23 years. In his first two years in Turkana, he worked as an administrator at Kakuma Mission Hospital and in 2002 Bishop Patrick Harrisson appointed him the Chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Lodwar.    

The fallen missionary held this role as one of very few lay Chancellors in the world until his death on May 25.

As a Chancellor, Miti had responsibility for diocesan legal issues and diocesan property. He further oversaw the social ministry function within the diocese which among other things involves supporting the education of children with visual and hearing impairments.

The fallen Catholic missionary supervised the famine relief department at the diocese. He also chaired and served on a number of boards and committees within the diocese.

From June 2022, Tony’s health weakened and after three months of being unwell in Lodwar, he flew to Ireland for advanced medical treatment and returned back to the country in December the same year.

In mid-May, he visited Lodwar County Referral Hospital for consultation and was referred to a Cardiologist in Eldoret. Upon moving quickly to the ICU, he breathed his last upon early hours of May 25.

The missionary was predeceased by his parents Valentine and Mary. He leaves behind in Ireland his sisters Delie and Frances, and in America his brother Fin bar and their families. Also Tony is survived by close cousins, Peggy, Dan and Bert and their families in Coventry, Ireland.

Tony worked with many Kenya Catholic bishops and it is unknown how many lives he touched in his 79 years of life.

Dr Temi Mutia, a former student and teacher at St Charles Lwanga, said Woods was his mentor who employed him for the first time to teach in the school after university.

“What a joy to teach alongside my former teachers, even those who expelled me after the porridge debacle in the school when I was a student in the 1980's?” Mutia joked as he eulogised Woods.


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