She was treated in the United Kingdom and India from May 29 before returning home on July 14
Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso breathed her last yesterday at the Nairobi Hospital after a long battle with cancer.
Doctors at the hospital had earlier sent an alert restricting those visiting her at the facility’s Intensive Care Unit but she succumbed at around 2pm.
As Kenyans took to social media to send condolence messages, family, friends and leaders trooped into Lee Funeral Home to view her body.
Dr Laboso goes down in history as the first ever female governor of a county that though largely patriarchal, decided to give her a stint at leadership.
Her husband, Dr Edwin Abonyo, said his wife had been in pain for a long period.
“She has actually suffered for a long time, but we kept it under wraps. She did not want it to deter her duties. She was very strong and we can only reciprocate that by being very strong at this very trying moment,” said Dr Obonyo before requesting that the family be accorded time and space to mourn her.
Dr Laboso was eulogised as a brave leader who, despite her battles with the disease, stood strong in her leadership endeavours since her tenure as Sotik MP, a seat she won after the demise of her sister Lorna Laboso.
President Kenyatta led the nation in mourning Dr Laboso. He said the cruel hand of death had robbed the country of a bold leader.
Mr Kenyatta described Dr Laboso as a scholar who transitioned into political leadership and will be remembered for her passion for education especially of the girl-child, an area where she initiated and supported numerous projects not just in Bomet, also countrywide.
“As we mourn and pay homage to the ever cheerful, visionary and brilliant departed leader, let us also remember to celebrate her life and achievements. In as much as Dr Laboso has sadly left us, her inspirational life will remain a great legacy, not just to the residents of Bomet, but to all Kenyans,” the President said in a statement.
Leaders at the funeral home recounted their last moments with the governor, who was in hospital abroad for two months before being flown back home.
Deputy President William Ruto said that in his last encounter with her, about two months ago, Dr Laboso did not show any sign that she would leave soon.
“It’s a situation that confounds all of us [that] yet again, we’ve lost a courageous, hardworking and a very progressive woman leader. She was among the pioneer elected women governors in the country against many odds. She demonstrated beyond doubt that she was made of very good metal,” he said.
During her stint as Deputy Speaker, the DP said Dr Laboso moderated parliamentary debate with impartiality.
“We have lost a steadfast, forthright and discerning leader. Condolences to family, friends and people of Bomet County. She was an iconic leader, who focused and delivered on her constituents’ interests. As MP and Bomet Governor, Dr Laboso carved a path of women’s advancement and was at the forefront of championing peace and harmonious relationships among all communities,” Mr Ruto said.
ODM leader Raila Odinga, who was among the first leaders to arrive at Lee funeral home, termed Dr Laboso’s death as a major blow to not just the people of Bomet, but to the country.
“We have lost a great lady in our nation. A strong fighter for justice and freedom. She has stood firm ever since she joined the world of politics following the tragic death of her sister,” said Mr Odinga.
In one of his encounters with Dr Laboso six weeks ago in London, the ODM leader said he found her strong but in pain.
“Then, we had a very good conversation. However, 10 days ago when I went to see her at the ICU in Nairobi hospital, she had completely changed. You could see that she was in pain, I think this has released her from pain,” Mr Odinga said.
He called for the setting up of cancer treatment centres across the country as a way of fighting the scourge, which according to statistics, has claimed many Kenyans’ lives in the recent past.
Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter said Dr Laboso was a development- conscious leader and a role model for women aspiring for leadership.
“I visited her at the hospital in India where she was recuperating and she told me she was strong. Her passing on is a big loss to the family, the people of Bomet and Kenyans at large, and we will stand with the family. May the Lord God rest her soul in peace,” Mr Keter said.
Council of Governors chairperson Wycliffe Oparanya said governors received the news of their colleague’s death while attending a meeting in Nairobi and rushed to the mortuary as a team to express solidarity with the family at this trying moment.
Mr Oparanya said that two months ago, Dr Laboso told him that she was planning a trip to the United Kingdom for a medical check-up.
“When she went there, the issue became serious. I visited her in India on behalf of the council and found she was not badly off. I did not think we would lose her as early as today. She asked me, nyinyi mmepewa pesa? (Have you been given money?) Those were her last words to me. She later lost her voice. I later visited her at the ICU and there she could not talk,” Mr Oparanya said.
“We have lost a great leader that we as a council will miss. She was first the chair of our Finance Committee then Education Committee. She was also serving as my deputy at the Lake region economic bloc,” Mr Oparanya said.
Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka said Dr Laboso had boldly shattered many glass ceilings by being the first female Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and thereafter as one of the three female governors.
“Her rich legacy speaks of her determination. My heartfelt sympathies and condolences to her family, friends and the people of Bomet. I pray that God shall grant them grace and strength to bear this big loss,” Mr Lusaka said.
A lasting impact
Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu said Laboso steadfastly and within a very short time understood the unmet needs of Bomet County residents and transformed the region through various programmes and projects that she carefully selected and implemented to create a lasting impact.
“We will miss terribly Dr Laboso’s passionate people-centred leadership,” Ms Ngilu said.
Homa Bay Governor Cyprian Awiti described Dr Laboso as a development- conscious leader, a fact that saw her colleagues in the Lake Region Economic Bloc elect her as their vice chairperson.
Laboso leaves behind two sons and her husband. She was 58.
By Mary Wambui, Nation