PROFILE: Lorna Irungu – Macharia, the epitome of redefining the impossible
By Patience Nyange and Esther Kiragu
This week’s series is dedicated to Lorna Irungu- Macharia, who passed away earlier this week. We join the media fraternity in Kenya, family and friends in mourning during this difficult time.
Lorna was on our list of women to be interviewed and profiled under the Kenya Women Series. We are sad that we never got a chance to do this.
However, that won’t stop us from celebrating the great woman she was and her contribution to the Kenyan media industry.
If you are reading this, with all humility, please take a moment of silence for all our fallen colleagues within the media and communications sector in Kenya.
Lorna Irungu is a woman that many of us remember through her TV days in the 1990s when she hosted a famous TV program on KTN– OMO Pick a Box— and a children’s show—Club Kiboko—that aired every Saturday morning.
Later she made her way to radio hosting the State of The Nation at then-Nation FM.
In 2003 she worked as an entertainment manager for the Carnivore Simba Saloon restaurant. Lorna spearheaded some of the biggest themed nights, the most famous being New Jack Swing which put Carnivore back on the map as Nairobi’s premier event.
Her passion was in shaping, telling and sharing stories, which she did through her work as a communication strategist helping businesses, campaigns, and even individuals in her communications firm—Siwa Communications—that she ran for several years.
We would then read about her struggles with Lupus, a long-term autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissue.
The disease saw her undergo three kidney transplants yet surviving each affliction with utmost courage and resilience for the last 20 years.
In her 2012 TED Talk, she said: “I live my life every day with passion, doing the things I love.” She was never a victim but a victor in life and inspired so many in the process.
In the Ted Talk, she puts an emphasis on the importance of surrounding yourself with the right kind of people who believe in you and support you in all ways.
“My family is my greatest support system. They have always been present.”
Lorna was the first East African in 30 years to participate in the World Transplant Games, which took place in 2013.
She was a 2010 Archbishop Tutu Fellow under the African Leadership Institute, where she also served as a member of the Board, and an Eisenhower International Fellow, Class of 2016.
Over the years, Lorna has been a Gender Equity advocate and built awareness around gender-based violence and promoting women’s voices in politics. She was also active in the Vijana Tugutuke campaign that encouraged the youth to participate in the 2007 elections.
Her struggles with Lupus have been published far and wide, and for a long time and she was the source of encouragement for those going through similar challenges.
“My life has been tough, surviving life with Lupus, but every time I think of how far Lorna has come, I am encouraged. I live to fight for another chance in life. I keep telling myself if Lorna is alive, then I too will live to tell about the goodness of the Lord,” one Sylvia wrote on Facebook.
Many Kenyans describe Lorna as a real trooper; a warrior who fought her life battles with compassion and passion, using the media space to encourage us all to keep fighting, no matter the circumstances.
“She had always remained resilient and hopeful. Seeing how she courageously fought lupus for years, then Covid-19 takes her this fast, is completely unfathomable. It is hard processing this,” said Polly.
Well, we have buried people, and these names have now become people we know. It is not business as usual. Even as we bury our pain so that we can move on, we are hurting, and we are feeling immobilized.
‘It is well, till we meet again, rest in eternal peace’ no longer make sense to us anymore. Well, as long as we are alive, each one of us will experience grief at some point.
Richard Carlson, in his book What About the Big Stuff, tackles the topic of grief in a way that makes us appreciate that, though our loved ones have physically left us, we must find a way to celebrate their existence and grieve freely.
“Grieving is a natural process that extends far beyond the topic of death. We live in a world of constant change where nothing stays the same. Every experience has an end, and so is every thought. It is natural to try to hang on and even cling to things, especially those things, experiences and people we love. There will be a loss then another and another, such is life.”
Family, friends, relatives and Kenyans sent their tributes after they learnt that Lorna Irungu had passed away. Below are some of the tributes from Lorna’s close friends. This is our way to celebrate the woman she was.
Ambassador Manoah Esipisu, the Kenya High Commissioner to the UK, said: “I remember meeting Lorna when she was in Form three at Moi Nairobi Girls. She was in her school play at the national finals of the annual drama festival. A ‘tour de force’, immensely popular and the obvious leader among her peers whose respect she clearly commanded. She was very warm, very genuine and very outspoken on the issues important to her, very inquisitive and very creative mind.
“She was also a beautiful soul weaved in humility. Tenacious. Unyielding in the face of diversity. Best of all, despite her well-chronicled challenges wrought by lupus that she fought and defeated, she was committed to living life to the fullest.
“For three decades, I have witnessed her great warm personality as she’s grown from the teenage leader at High School, to blossoming actress at Phoenix Players and other stages, and on to a vibrant media personality at KTN and Nation, and then Corporate Communications Executive from whence her journey was abruptly halted. ‘Always a call away’, she’d say. I will miss you.”
Isis Ny’ong’o Madison, a Kenyan-American media and technology entrepreneur, said: “I was devastated to learn that we lost Lorna Irungu Macharia’s to COVID-19. She was an amazing person in every respect, as you can see from the many tributes online. We were fortunate to benefit from her presence and deep knowledge when she spoke at a Women Work event on Crafting your Personal Brand in September 2019. It was a hugely inspiring talk, and while sadly not videotaped, Iman Cooper captured these beautiful photos which I share in remembrance and gratitude.”
Until her death, Lorna Irungu worked as the Managing Director of the Gina Din Group, a professional communications consulting firm that was recently acquired by Edelman Kenya. Gina Din, the Founder and Executive Chair of the company posted the message below on Twitter:
Today I lost the smartest, kindest and strongest of friends. Lorna thank you for taking this journey with me. My family will miss you and words just aren't enough. Dance with the angels you beautiful soul. @edwin_macharia thank you for everything you were to her. pic.twitter.com/u49LfPD7qo
— GINA DIN (@gina_din) March 22, 2021
Esther Kiragu is a writer, editor, and communications professional in Kenya while Patience Nyange is a Chevening Scholar with a Masters Degree in International Public Relations and Global Communication Management from Cardiff University. Prior to joining Cardiff University, Patience served as an Assistant Director at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).