Behind the wheels, Jonathan Toroitich, the eldest son of former President Moi, would be as exhilarated as he was while toiling in the farm.
When his distraught family confirmed his death yesterday morning, it was a painful end of an era for a self-effacing man who had spend his life charting his own path away from the shadow of his famous second name.
In the process, and through a rallying prowess earned after he folded up his sleeves and took to the muddy sporting career, he charmed his way into national psyche.
“Jonathan will be remembered for his daring exploits in the racing tracks, in muddy and dusty tracks, during this time of Easter. He was amiable, social, down-to-earth and industrious human being,” the statement confirming his passing issued by Baringo Senator Gideon Moi read in part.
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The poignancy of his end, the suddenness of it, the timing – Easter season when his star shone the most in his heydays – added swell to the grief that engulfed the Moi family. Bubbly and ever smiling, JT as he was fondly known, had enjoyed good health for the better part of his life.
Threw caution to wind
“We are distraught as a family and we ask for your prayers and seek your understanding and indulgence to allow us mourn privately. We will continue to inform Kenyans, on a need basis, and of further arrangements,” the family statement added.
Born on July 23, 1954, Jonathan was three-months shy of hitting 65. At the age of 32, he threw caution to the wind by entering one of the world’s hardest motorsport competitions, the Safari Rally. That was 1986.
In the next one decade, and in the company of his great friend the late Ibrahim Choge, he transformed himself into a national hero, scooping more than 800 trophies. Yesterday, in the wake of the news of his death, leaders from all walks of life were united in condoling with the Moi family, eulogising JT as a humble human being who will be most remembered for his exploits in the Safari Rally.
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“JT was a humble, kind, generous and courageous person. JT’s word was always his bond, he was dependable,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said of him in a statement.
President Kenyatta also said that Jonathan, whom he referred to as his friend and brother, would be remembered for his pioneering exploits in motorsport as a rally driver and as a successful farmer, businessman and entrepreneur.
“Our collective thoughts and prayers as a family and as a country are with you, your family and friends during this difficult period of mourning,” President Kenyatta said.
Former President Kibaki remembered JT’s sports prowess and enterprising spirit.
“A self-effacing and private person, Jonathan will be remembered for his breakthrough in motor sporting, farming and business,” the former president said. “I extend my family’s sympathy to the late Jonathan Moi’s immediate family members and his friends at this time of sorrow.”
Deputy President William Ruto also paid tribute to JT.
“Jonathan made his name as an enthusiastic, competitive and masterful rally driver. He was sociable, affable and loved a good laugh. Jonathan treasured family, friendships and committed himself to bettering the lives of others,” Ruto said.
JT is the second child and eldest son of former President Moi and Mama Lena. Together with other pioneers, Jonathan helped fan the flames of love for the sport among Kenyans, with fans cheering their every gear change, urging them on from stage to stage and celebrating every podium finish as if they themselves were active participants in the rallies.
Together with his years-long navigator, Choge, and other rally aces such as the legendary Patrick Njiru and Chandrashekhar “Shekhar” Mehta, they formed part of a core group of Kenyanswho flew the Kenyan flag high and with pride.
He sampled factory prepared Toyota cars, always performing well. He hardly invoked the name of his father, and never complained nor courted undue publicity.
In the 1985 rally, he was brave enough to plough his car through a raging river. Only Kenneth Erickson attempted the suicidal feat and this great picture is immortalised in Reinhardt Klein’s Safari Rally book.
By the time he was retiring in 1997, he was ripe enough to mingle with the best and did this with precision as he finished fifth in the Safari Rally and won the Kenya National Rally Championship.
He made a brief comeback in the 1998 edition of the gruelling race before leaving the sport he loved, to concentrate on farming and business. He also ventured into politics in 2002 and 2007 General Election, running for Eldama Ravine Constituency on a Kanu ticket. On both attempts, he failed and chose a quiet life thereafter.
“Jonathan was one of the best and avid rally drivers this country has ever had. May his soul Rest In Peace,” Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed eulogised.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga also passed his condolences to the Moi family.
“We wish strength to the former President and his family to bear the loss. May God grant peace to the family at this sad moment,” said Raila. The Standard Group board of directors, management and staff through the CEO Orlando Lyomu condoled with the family of former President Daniel Arap Moi, and the people of Baringo County, following the sad loss of his son, Jonathan.
Mr Lyomu said: “Jonathan will be remembered for his sporting prowess as a Safari Rally icon, as a large-scale farmer, an astute businessman, and for a short period, a political aspirant seeking the Eldama Ravine parliamentary seat.”
He added: “His courage behind the wheel and his amiable and charming personality endeared him to many, especially the youth, who were his fan base.”
Senator Moses Wetang’ula and former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka said they had learnt with deep shock the passing on of Jonathan and condoled with the family. They talked of his generosity, humility and friendly disposition to all.
Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui also condoled with the family, saying the departed will be remembered as a great sportsman.
Family sources said Jonathan died of cancer in the wee hours of Saturday morning. His death is the second tragic loss for the former President’s family in recent years. In 2015, Raymond lost his 16-year-old son, to brain cancer.
As reported by Standard