The academic and the writer on enduring love

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One is a renowned scholar, the other, a politician and author, and they both have rich legacies in the public sector. They have been married for 50 years and their marital bliss continues to grow, writes HAROLD AYODO.

Meet Moi University Chancellor Prof Bethwel Allan Ogot and his famous author and tough talking politician wife, Grace Emily Akinyi Ogot.

The history professor’s thick spectacle lenses, which have helped him scour volumes of research papers, and Grace’s stylish cone-shaped headscarf, are their trademarks.

The Ogots say they never mixed their challenging professions with family matters. [PHOTOS/JAMES KEYI/standard]

They are both household names and heads turn whenever they walk around their hometown of Yala or the streets of Kisumu.

And it is perhaps their simple lifestyles that have made them more popular. They drive simple cars and mix easily with ordinary folks. When not riding in their ageing Toyota Landcruiser, they are in a Volvo station wagon.

The couple that plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year believes respect and tolerance saw their marriage last despite their different and demanding professions.

Ogot says he slipped a wedding ring onto Grace’s finger in 1959 knowing she was an ambitious woman who could not be stopped.

Test of time

“We have survived the test of time because I believe wives are human beings with careers, professions and dreams to follow just like men,” says Ogot.

Ogot, who says he has lived with Grace through her toughest times as a politician, does not regret giving her the space to pursue her ambitions.

“I learnt more from Grace when I accompanied her on the campaign trail than from what I have read in books over the past 70 years,” says Ogot.

The don, 79, who dances and performs jigs for Grace at several social gatherings, says marriage is about accommodating and supporting each other.

Campaigning for his wife put him in several awkward situations.

“I got worked up on several occasions when Grace addressed rowdy rallies and she was called unprintable names,” Ogot recalls.

He says the experiences taught him that wives should not be allowed to campaign unaccompanied.

“Political campaigns are a strange business. There were some voters who could only be met at 2am,” he says.

Ogot thinks finding time every day to be together despite their tight schedules helped strengthen their love.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder. We still appear at public functions together,” says the man who still reads widely for at least three hours a day.

“I am through with my 35th book, which is 1,400 pages long and took me about two and a half years to complete. It is now with the publishers,” says Ogot, adding that his last book will not stop him from publishing academic papers.

“Academia is so addictive that one can publish his or her last book but not scholarly articles. It is also hard to turn down a request to give an academic talk,” he says.

Grace, 78, who published nine novels before she served as Gem MP between 1983 and 1992, says her pen never dried up.

“I am now writing what I believe is my last book, Simple Days of My Life,” she says.

Grace, who was at one point the only woman assistant minister in the cabinet of former President Daniel Moi, says the book is about her life.

She says her last book will be a souvenir for girls and women she has inspired over the past 50 years and encourage them to take life head on.

Mutual respect

The woman, who managed to balance her roles of a wife, mother, nurse, journalist, author and MP, says respect and understanding kept her marriage strong for five decades.

She says respect for her family and carrying out her roles at home made it work.

“I believe that we have lived our lives to the fullest. My husband stood by me during my toughest days in politics for 10 years,” she says.

“I believe my marriage has lasted this long because I married the man I loved and he has proved to be a gentleman who has come home early for more than 50 years,” she says.

The couple is thankful that their four children are following their footsteps in academia and respect for their families.

Of the boys, Prof Michael Madara is at the University of Nairobi, Milton is an established engineer in Europe and David is an author and journalist,” says Grace.

She is happy that her only daughter is a teacher married to the son of Grace Onyango, the first woman MP in Kenya.

“I got my inspiration from fellow African women like writer Asenath Bole Odaga, although I started publishing before her,” she says.

Challenging professions

She wrote her first book, at 18, when tales she heard from her late grandmother Damar Otoyi and mother Rael Onyuna inspired her.

Grace says she has reinvented her style over the decades.

“I grew from an ordinary village girl to wearing mini skirts, which I shelved after I entered Parliament in 1983. I adopted my trademark headscarf and long dresses to represent the typical African woman who toils in abject poverty for the success of her family,” says Grace.

Grace, who wears light make up, recalls how humility, gentility and intelligence attracted her to Prof Ogot.

“I first met him in the mid 1950s at Makerere University at a student’s meeting,” she says.

The grandmother of 10, who studied nursing in England, remembers how it felt to be among the first women to fly abroad for studies.

“Prof Ogot and his studious colleagues told me how they were eager to proceed for further studies where I was in England over 55 years ago,” she recalls.

Grace, who attended Butere Girls’ High School, says she resisted advances from men during her days in college to prove elders who were against her flying abroad for studies wrong.

“My father [Joseph Nyanduga] was a teacher who wanted me to study, but elders were against his wishes as no girl from Asembo had flown out then,” she recalls.

She completed her studies and returned to the country after three years and worked as the head nurse in charge of the prestigious Maseno Mission Hospital.

Grace says she reciprocated the support she received from her husband during her decade in politics by giving him space.

“I understood that Prof is a bookworm and was never interrupted whenever he pored over or wrote books,” says Grace, who insists she has not left politics.

She still meets with her fellow women ex-MPs Phoebe Asiyo and Grace Onyango to catch up and relive the good old days.

Asiyo who was the MP for Rachuonyo, is the United Nations Development Fund for Women’s goodwill ambassador where she fights for the rights of women.

“We stood our ground and contributed to the passing of Bills as we were educated women who had an agenda to push for fellow women,” says Grace.

Ogot says they resolved to construct a political office for Grace in their rural home in Yala a few metres away from his library.

“We never wanted to mix our challenging professions with family matters. Our sitting room was neither a political office nor library,” says Ogot.

He recalls Grace hosted over 30 constituents from Gem over breakfast meetings at her rural political office.

“Just imagine how our main house would be if the constituents were left to meet their MP there and scholars and university students also met me there,” says the man who kept his arguably divergent views close to his heart when he accompanied Grace on her campaign trail.


“I knew the best way to tell her that some of her policies would not be popular,” he says.

The renowned scholar is happy that Grace helped set up over 18 secondary schools in Gem Constituency during her reign as MP.

“I believe education is the best thing we can give to our youth for a better country and economic growth,” says Ogot, who appreciates all genres of music.

The couple believes that eating traditional food has kept them young and energetic over the years.

The scholar does not regret the abuses heaped on him occasionally when he accompanied Grace on the campaign trail between 1983 and 1992.

He says his presence on the campaign trail made youth who escorted his wife behave with dignity.

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