The General: Behind the tough face was a good man

Friday July 7 started just like another ordinary day at the office.

I was in a meeting in a colleague’s office on the fourth floor of Harambee House discussing security preparedness for the August 8 General Election when, at around 9.30am, Mary, secretary to Interior Cabinet Secretary Maj-Gen (Rtd) Joseph Nkaissery, buzzed and informed me that he wanted to see me right away.

JOVIAL

I excused myself from the meeting and went to his sixth floor office.

‘The General’, as we used to call him, was in an ebullient mood.

“Ero, habari yako (How are you)?” came his trademark greetings.

DEDICATED

After the greetings, we went into discussions and making plans for the following week.

This lasted for about 30 minutes. As I was walking out of the CS’s office, I remembered I needed to remind him that I would be travelling out of the country to the United States that evening on official engagements, to which he responded: “Hiyo ni sawa sawa kabisa. Kazi lazima ifanywe… (That’s perfectly in order. Work has to be done).”

Such was Maj-Gen (Rtd) Nkaissery; always humane and dedicated to work.

SHOCKER
When I walked out of his office that Friday morning I had no idea that I was seeing my boss for the last time.

Come evening, flight KL 0566 took off from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

We landed at Schiphol Airport Saturday morning and after a short layover, we boarded our flight to Detroit, USA.

It was at this point while in the plane, ready for the trans-Atlantic flight, that I switched on my phone to quickly check messages before the plane took off.

The messages I got from colleagues in Nairobi were shocking.

REMINISCE

For a moment, I thought someone was playing a silly and insensitive April Fool’s Day joke on me.

But then I realised it was not a joke. The news was unbelievable, implausible and numbing because throughout the period I had worked for CS Nkaissery, he was always full of vigour and oozed positive infectious energy.

As the plane took off for the US, I found myself recalling the moments with him.

EXCELLENCE

As a retired military officer, he was evidently a firm and resolute leader who had no patience for mediocrity or lateness.

He also had a larger-than-life presence. When he entered a room during meetings, everyone would know “the boss” had come.

He had a majestic and ramrod walking style that announced his military background, of which he was particularly proud.

CARING
Away from the public glare, he was a fun-loving, often easy-going and caring boss.

Unlike most bosses at his level, if you went to Nkaissery with a personal problem, he would always be there for you.

Those who worked closely with him knew that inside the austere, tough-talking and no-nonsense public persona that media often portrayed of “The General” was a gentle and caring man: A good boss and a good man.

HOSPITAL
My mind flashed back to November 2014 when I went to inform him that my mother had passed away and after consolation, he asked me “How old was she?”

I told him she was around 77 years and he responded “That was still young. Was she sick?”

After I had explained that this was the first time she had been admitted to hospital, he responded “You know some of these elderly people hate being admitted to hospital.

“Even I can’t remember the last time I was in hospital…”

TEAM BUILDING

After this, he asked me if we had a huge medical bill and might require his support.

Again, that was Maj-Gen (rtd) Nkaissery; always concerned about the welfare of his staff.

My mind went back to the Great Rift Valley Lodge where we had a team-building event last year.

EXERCISE

I recalled the CS leading us in early morning military-style jogging and exercise every day for almost a whole week.

He would run faster than all of us despite being older than everyone else.

Away from the public glare, especially during engagements outside the office, CS Nkaissery would insist on having dinner or a drink with his staff where he would crack jokes regaling them with tales and adventures of his military life.

GREAT LOSS
Even as I pen this tribute thousands of miles away from home, I am yet to come to terms that he is no more.

You were a good man, a good boss and a patriot who loved his country and tried to do everything you could to ensure the country was “safe and secure before, during and after the elections”, as you always liked to put it to us during briefings.

Fare thee well, boss.

The writer is spokesman, Ministry of Interior and worked as Communications Advisor to the late CS Nkaissery

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