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Dr. Margaret Ogola: a woman for all seasons

  Sep 28, 2011

Dr Margaret Ogola, an award winning author, medical doctor, and human rights advocate passed away on Thursday, 22 September 2011. She was the Director of Institute of Healthcare Management at the Business School from 2009 to 2010. Her daughter Paulette is a second year Bachelor of Commerce student here.

Dr Ogola is best known for her book ‘The River and the Source’, which was the examined novel in KCSE from 1999 to 2004. The novel won the 1995 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize best first book in the Africa Region, and the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature the same year.


‘River and the Source’ follows four generations of Kenyan women in a rapidly changing country and society It has been translated to Spanish, Lithuanian, and Italian.

It has a sequel, ‘I Swear by Apollo’ examines issues of medical ethics and authentic identity.

Ms Harriet Koyoson who worked closely with Dr Ogola at the Business School said that the late medic used to describe herself in her characteristic wit as a writer who became a doctor.

The title of her third novel is ‘Place of Destiny’. It won Dr Ogola her second Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature in 2007.

‘Place of Destiny’ is about a woman dying of cancer and the rise to recognition of a former street child as well as issues of poverty. It is eerie autobiographical because Dr Ogola battled with cancer for many years and she also dealt with the dirt poor in society in most of her professional life.

In a speech she made at the 4th Women International Conference in Beijing (China) in 1995, Dr Ogola observed that unless we recognise that each individual is valuable by virtue of simply being conceived human, we cannot begin to talk about human rights. See: On the Dignity of the African Woman.

In 1997, she co-authored with Ms Margaret Roche a brief biography on Maurice Cardinal Otunga under the title ‘Life of Grace’. She also wrote ‘Educating in Human Love: guiding children on sex’, a handbook for parents.

Dr Ogola was also the Medical Director of Cottolengo Hospice, a hospice for HIV and AIDS orphans from 1994. Dr Ogola also received the Familias Award for Humanitarian Service of the World Congress of Families in 1999 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Dr Ogola was born on 2nd June 1958. She attended Thompson’s Falls High School in Nyahururu and was the best student overall in her O level class.

She then joined Alliance Girls High School, and later the University of Nairobi where she earned her first degree in Bachelor of Medicine & Surgery in 1984.

Upon graduation, she worked as a medical officer at Kenyatta National Hospital. In 1990, she earned her Master of Medicine in Paediatrics at the University of Nairobi.

Dr Ogola continued working at Kenyatta as a consultant Paeditrician until 1994 when she became the Executive Director of Family Life Counselling Association of Kenya (FLACK). She worked at FLACK until 1998.

In 1998, she became the National Executive Secretary for Health and Family Life at the Kenya Episcopal Conference until 2002. The job entailed co-ordinating the administration of over 430 health care facilities run by the Catholic Church in Kenya.

The facilities offer about 20% of healthcare in Kenya.

In November 2002, she became the Kenya co-ordinator of HACI (Hope for African Children Initiative), a partnership of several international NGOs – Plan, CARE, Save the Children, Society for Women and Aids, World Conference for Religion and Peace, and World Vision.

Dr Ogola also helped found and manage the SOS HIV/AIDS Clinic (April 2004 –April 2005), which is a clinic for people living with Aids (PLWAs). The clinic offers VCT, provision of ART and nutritional support to 1000 persons from the surrounding slums: women, men and children.

She also held a Post Graduate Diploma on Planning & Management of Development Projects from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in 2004.

Dr Tom Odhiambo who did his master’s thesis on Dr Ogola’s work wrote: Ogola’s text seeks to project Kenyan women as capable of not only telling their own stories but also of claiming their rightful place and identity in the broader national life.

When CNN commentator on the Catholic Church John Allen decided to write a book about Opus Dei in 2005, he traveled all over the world interviewing people.

When he finished writing the book, a blog called open book asked him first asked him: Based on your own personal experience and encounters, what most impressed you about Opus Dei?

Then the second question was: Was there anyone in particular you remember who embodied this (Opus Dei) best?

John answered: Yes. I would say Margaret Ogola, a married member of Opus Dei (super numerary) in Kenya. She’s a novelist. Her first novel, ‘The River and the Source,’ won every African literature award there is.

It’s a marvelous piece of work tracing the story of a Kenyan family and focuses on strong female characters. It’s very empowering, but it’s not ideologically charged; it’s a genuine human story.

She’s also a dedicated, passionate medical doctor, involved with a hospice for HIV positive children in Kenya.

She’s also the advisor to the Kenyan bishops on issues of family and health. And in addition to all of this, is a wonderful mother to her children.

When I think how busy she is and how well she does each of these things, and at the same time that she has this peace and focus—it’s astonishing, read more

She is survived by her husband Dr George Ogola and six children.

Dr Ogola’s funeral Mass will be held at Holy Family Basilica on Thursday, 29th September beginning at 2pm. May God rest her soul in eternal peace.

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