•Murungi was the owner of Mastermind-the manufacturers of supermatch cigarettes.
•While very little is known about his personal life, the impact of his actions was felt by many.
“The master acts without doing, teaches without saying, expecting no appreciation,” is a great teaching among the Chinese.
Tributes to a tobacco business tycoon Wilfred Murungi all pointed to a man who lived that teaching. While very little is known about his personal life, the impact of his actions was felt by many.
In an unusual requiem mass held at All Saints Cathedral two days after his private burial, members of the public were for the first time allowed to attend.
A sombre mood blended with uncertainty hang loosely in the air as people among them great businessmen and politicians walked into the church on Thursday afternoon.
At the altar, where the casket ordinarily stands, was a table with Murungi’s portrait in a frame. On both sides were huge banquets of white and green flowers.
His four children; Audrey Wanja, Erick Mugambi, Angela Muthoni and Allan Murungi sat side by side on the first row, quietly.
Very little was said about his personal life; that he loves ‘nyama choma’ and enjoyed sports which he played as a child. Most of those who eulogised him spoke about his work at East African Power and Lighting Company before he quit joining BAT. Later, he started selling cigarettes in his old Land Rover in Zaire, currently DRC before building his manufacturing plant.
Murungi married his now deceased wife Joyce Murungi more than 40 years ago. When she died in 2010, the business mogul did not attend his wife’s burial despite escorting his body from Nairobi to their home in Mugutini.
A friend who read the family tribute to their father said Mr. and Mrs. Murungi met in high school where they started courting after exchanging love letters across the fence of Meru High School and a neighbouring school which she attended.
“They were high school lovers and got married soon after. Murungi then joined Alliance for his A-levels,” she eulogised.
If you are above 20 years, you have probably heard about Supermatch cigarettes, if you haven’t been sent to buy or smoked one.
Murungi, commonly referred to as ‘Master’ quit his decade long lucrative job at the British American Tobacco to start his own company targeting the lower end of the market.
His name spread fast and far, together with the Supermatch and Rocket cigarette brands which his company produced, but his life, remained a reserve for a family members, friends and business partners.
“Murungi was a quiet and reserved man, but his impact massive, he was shy of compliments,” Athi River Pradeep Paunrana eulogized him. “In stature, he was short amongst the youths of his generation but their giant.”
Despite his silent life, Murungi made a huge impact in his community being one of the people who laid the foundation of Chuka University.
At his village, he supported many school and paid school fees for many needy and bright children through his family foundation.
Murungi died after months of illness at 75 and was buried quickly soon after, by only eight family members that lasted about an hour.
Heavily armed police officers from Magutuni and Chogoria police stations were deployed to Mr Murungi's palatial homestead.
They guarded the three gates leading to the home, making sure no villager sneaked in to see the body of the man referred to as ‘Master’ descend into the grave.
Two choppers, one carrying the casket and the other the tycoon's family members and a clergy from Nairobi, touched down at Kiurani Primary School at around 11.10am. From there, a Mercedes-Benz hearse ferried the body to the home about a kilometre away.
The oxymoron on the uncertainty of life and absolute as death describe Wilfred Murungi. The people whose lives intersected with Murungi’s directly or indirectly, have something he left in them if not for them.