August 28, 2020
Mary Gitonga: A tribute to a dear friend and colleague
On 23 Jul 2020, our dear friend and colleague Mary Gitonga passed away. She had been until then our Operations Manager, based at our Nairobi office. Mary will be remembered not only for her exemplary work, but for the special way she made a difference in our lives, supporting the entire team. For us, her passion and humility offered beautiful lessons in courage in times of adversity.
Mary had experienced some health challenges in the past, but that did not deter her. She remained efficient, hard-working, and a pillar of our organisation. She was motivated and reliable, offering help even into the late hours of the night, and took time to ensure that her colleagues had the support they needed in the course of international travel and events, among other activities.Over the years, she continued to provide tireless support to our team members across the region.Those who worked closely with Mary know her even-handed approach and her deep commitment to the organization. The ITDP community fondly remembers Mary and the impact she made in our lives.
Mary joined the team in 2016, as one of the first hires in Nairobi, where she helped build ITDP’s Africa programme as we know it today. “Mary was tough yet gentle and loving,” Peninah recalls. “To me she was like a mother. She took her work seriously and was a ‘no-nonsense’ lady when performing her duties. At the same time, she was a lovable, respectful, friendly, and understanding person. For years we sat opposite each other in the office and our conversations were great. We shared snacks and served each other tea. We always had our lunch together. Her favourite meal was githeri.”
“We became great friends and talked about everything in life,” Peninah continues. “After I became a mom, Mary’s advice was best! She helped me transition smoothly to becoming a working mother and gave me all the support that I needed. She even helped me get a nanny one time! She was the most optimistic person I have ever met.”
The ITDP Nairobi team in October 2018
“Every day I am reminded of my relationship with Mary,” adds Rose. “She was a colleague and my supervisor, with whom we collaborated in many aspects of my work. Mary was a hard worker. She dedicated herself to her work and had very solid work etiquette. In her role she ensured that the team worked together, felt at home, and belonged in the organization. She demonstrated with utmost humility that in a work environment there had to be elements of respect, trust, commitment, and reasonable expectations.
“As my supervisor,” explains Rose, “Mary was very kind and understanding. Even when she got disappointed, she was still optimistic. On several occasions she would ask me not to hesitate to ask her for assistance. I never saw her lose her temper. She led us with respect and expected the same from everyone.”
Rose continues: “Mary was very motherly. Our former colleague Maina called her ‘shosh,’ which loosely translates to ‘grandma,’ because of how she would advise us on family matters, attaining financial stability, chasing our dreams, and simply sharing her extra snacks and packed lunch. She taught us a lot about raising children. Her motherly demeanor always sprung out whenever she spoke of her own kids.”
Mary will be sorely missed and forever remembered. In grief, we share our condolences with her family and friends.