“I have lived a good life. I have some regrets. It is not a perfect life, nobody is perfect but I am ready now,” Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore told close friends two days before his death.
It was on a chilly Saturday afternoon when Collymore, having known that he did not have long to live, confided in five closest friends about what lay ahead.
Multiple sources intimated to People Daily how doctors at a Nairobi hospital informed him of his imminent death just two weeks ago.
“Doctors had told him that he had only 14 days to live. And true to their assessment, Bob died on the tenth day after that,” a close friend said. Yesterday morning, Safaricom announced what it dreaded most: Collymore had passed on.
“He has been undergoing treatment for his condition in different hospitals and most recently at Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi. In recent weeks, his condition worsened and he succumbed to the cancer at his home in the early hours of Monday,” Safaricom chairman Nicholas Ng’ang’a said in a statement.
Since the 14 days revelation, Collymore is said to have confided in close family members, relatives and closest friends, but avoided causing anxiety in the company.
By the time of his death yesterday morning, almost all those close to him were aware of the fate that was likely to befall him, with family members having travelled from the United Kingdom and Guyana in readiness for his final rites. And according to his wishes, his body is scheduled to be interred today in a private family function. A memorial service has been scheduled towards the end of the week.
“There will be a private interment process on Tuesday but later on in the week, hopefully Thursday or Friday, there will be a memorial service for all those who knew and cared for Bob,” Ng’ang’a told journalists during a media briefing in Nairobi.
In the last two weeks, Collymore is said to have spent most of his time chatting with those closest and dearest.
It is now believed the CEO was bidding them farewell.
TV personality and close friend Jeff Koinange, narrated how he saw his friend in pain but unbowed by the cancer ravaging his body.
Collymore had earlier informed friends he had only a month to live. Still nothing quite prepared them, and by extension Kenyans, for his sudden death.
“Bob had informed us so we knew that he wasn’t going to last very long. He had been told by his doctors not to make any long term plans… in fact, he had been told that if he makes it past July he’d be lucky,” Koinange said in an interview on Citizen TV.
According to Koinange, so sure was Collymore about his death that he advised Safaricom, which had extended his tenure by a year to get another chief executive officer.
“I have never seen anyone prepared for death like I did this man… he did inform those in charge, he said, look, I am not going to make that year you gave me… so you guys go and pick another CEO,” he shared.
He had also prepared his family and friends.
Koinange shared how, on Saturday, Collymore was in pain, with a burning sensation coming from his spine and would occasionally stand up to stretch in a bid to reduce the pain.
But even as death closed in, so determined was the Safaricom boss that he gathered strength to see off his guests to the car park despite their insistence that he needed to rest.
Immediately news of his death broke, a sombre mood engulfed the Safaricom fraternity, as employees huddled in small groups to discuss the devastating development in hushed tones.
“Bob was very brave in telling the country what he was going through. It’s not easy to reveal such personal details, but Bob did it,” Ng’ang’a said at a press conference.
According to Ng’ang’a, the entire Safaricom board was aware of Collymore’s deteriorating health and had prepared his succession.
Collymore’s predecessor, Michael Joseph, said: “Bob understood Safaricom’s DNA and whoever will succeed him will have the challenge of following suit and knowing that DNA properly.”
President Uhuru Kenyatta said “Bob Collymore was an accomplished corporate leader who steered Safaricom to a position of great admiration as East Africa’s most profitable company. Besides his role at Safaricom, Mr Collymore served on our Vision 2030 Board where he offered his managerial expertise in pursuit of our national development agenda.”
“Through his leadership of the company at a crucial time, Bob helped position Kenya as a global leader in financial inclusion. His legacy will live on through all the people in Kenya and throughout the world whose lives have been changed by Safaricom’s innovations,” Central Bank Governor Patrick Njoroge said.
In 2017, Collymore flew to Britain on a long medical leave after being diagnosed with acute Myeloid Leukaemia, characterised by the rapid growth of abnormal cells that built up in the bone marrow and blood and interfered with normal blood cells.
He was not seen in public until July last year when he made a triumphant re-entry into corporate hall of fame. In his first interview upon his return, he recalled how the symptoms of the deadly disease had first manifested through pain in his shin.
“I noticed pain in the bones of my shin, which is not something you experience unless you kick something hard. I was shaking; my wife thought I had malaria,” he said in an interview.
He sought medical help, and a physician told him he was Vitamin D deficient and prescribed supplements.
Unsatisfied, Collymore thought, “let me go and see a proper doctor. So I went to Dr Silverstein and he ran a series of tests,” he recalled.
“He did 30 different blood tests, I know that because I know it cost me about $1000 (Sh100,000). He told me I don’t know what the problem was but I need to admit you and if possible immediately,” he said.
The following day, the doctor asked to do a bone marrow aspirate, where a sample of the marrow is taken and examined. Silverstein told him he had a problem with his blood.
“He told me he is not an expert in the subject… ‘but I need to get you to an expert pretty soon’. I said the elections are coming up, and soon after we have the year end coming up, so I will go soon after that, but the doctor said, ‘I mean I would like you to go like tonight,” he narrated.
At this point, Collymore knew he was in trouble. He immediately made arrangements to fly to London for advanced treatment and later discovered he had cancer.
He confessed he was scared.