Philip Ochieng, famous editor, fifth columnist, dies aged 83
Philip Ochieng, a celebrated wordsmith, editor, columnist and author, whose stylish journalism captured the imaginations of readers for nearly four decades, died on Tuesday evening in Awendo. He was 83.
His death, announced by his family members and said to be as a result of pneumonia, united the young and old who mourned the celebrated wordsmith.
“You trained me to love journalism. You mentored many of us. You gave me two books; Kenyatta Succession and I Accuse the Press. You were an avid reader and loved good stories. Rest Mzee,” Nation Special Projects Managing Editor John Kamau mourned him.
ODM leader Raila Odinga also eulogised Mr Ochieng as a veteran journalist and legendary columnist.
“Through the power of the pen, Philip spoke to the most powerful and moved the society into action,” Mr Odinga said.
Kamkunji MP Yusuf Hassan described the late writer as “one of the greatest Kenyan journalists of our times,” saying that Mr Ochieng’s columns and writings “set an unsurpassed standard for Kenyan journalism.”
Tom Bwana, a Stadium announcer and one of the youthful avid readers of Mr Ochieng’s works, said that the passing of the former editor “felt like burning down a library with its books,” adding “This is pain. This is sorrow.”
The book, The Fifth Columnist, A Legendary Journalist, written by his former colleague at the Nation Liz Gitonga-Wanjohi, helped capture the life and times of Mr Ochieng.
In the book, Ms Gitonga-Wanjohi described Ochieng as a man who beat many odds to become one of the most celebrated media personalities of his time.
Attended Alliance High School
After schooling in his home village in present-day Awendo, Migori, he got admitted to the prestigious Alliance High School, then under the unforgettable Carey Francis, who at one time had to go to Mr Ochieng’s rural home to persuade him to go back and complete school.
In 1957, Mr Ochieng’ wrote a letter asking to be re-admitted to school, promising to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. But years later, he declared that God did not exist and confessed to being an atheist.
Despite being in the first student airlift to the US in 1959, then seen as a major breakthrough, Ochieng was among the students who never completed their studies.
When he returned back to Kenya, he was picked as a trainee reporter at Nation House, the predecessor of Nation Centre, where he later on worked as editorial copy reviser and then as the chief sub-editor.
He later rose to the position of an associate editor where he frequently wrote editorial being being appointed the Managing Editor.
Between September 1988 and September 1991 he worked as the editor-in-chief of the defunct Kenya Times earning himself the moniker of being a gate keeper of the Kanu regime.
Years later, after leaving the newsroom, former President Mwai Kibaki conferred him the Order of the Burning Spear (OBS) for his objectivity that he carried himself with in his Sunday Nation column.