Safari of a Lifetime - The Memoirs of Gordon Mungeam(*)

A review written for alumni of the Royal Technical College (RTC) that became Royal College (RC) and eventually the University of Nairobi (UoN).

For those of you who do not know Dr. Gordon Mungeam and did not have the good fortune of being one of his students, he was a lecturer at the then Royal Technical College from the day it opened in April 1956 till his departure in 1968, twelve of the most eventful years of his life. Gordon’s introduction to his memoirs suggests that Safari was written primarily so that his grandson James and his five other grandchildren would come to know more about the family history. This is in itself an admirable reason to put pen to paper. After reading and reflecting on Gordon’s memoirs, however, I believe that Gordon is altogether too modest as his Safari encompasses much more than just a chronicle of events and we come to know a great deal of Gordon the man, his beliefs, his character and the underlying principles that guided him in his decisions and at every stage of his life journey.

In many ways, the book was a revelation to me. For the first few years, the RTC had only A-level courses in the Arts and Sciences. On completion of those courses, we students then proceeded in different directions for our undergraduate studies, the University of Bristol in my case. As a result, I knew him for only a little over two years. You would think, however, that seeing a person daily each semester would give one a pretty comprehensive picture of the man. Think again. Safari introduced me to facets of Gordon of which I was previously completely unaware.

What we saw in the classroom was a man who took his job as a history lecturer seriously and conscientiously. Gordon was only 23 years and 8 months old, just two years out of Oxford when he arrived at a completely new multiracial institution, the first of its kind, in a country he knew very little about and facing a class of 25 students who themselves were learning to cope with the complexities of adjusting to their varied racial backgrounds. We soon got to like this tall, genial Englishman with the ready smile – and the tendency to blush whenever any of the pretty young ladies in our class came within six feet of him!

Gordon was not the only lecturer who was perhaps a little wet behind the ears. They formed a distinct group, most of them bachelors. Gordon mentions at least four who became his lifelong friends, Dai Morgan, John Sale, Ted Phythian and John Kieran. We students soon found that what these lecturers lacked in experience they more than made up in knowledge, enthusiasm, fresh perspectives and approachability. This is reflected in Gordon’s account of his work at the RTC and the relationships he developed with his students.

What came as a surprise to me in Safari was to discover Gordon’s deep and personal Christianity and his unswerving belief in God. “Looking back on my life,” he says in his Introduction, “I have a profound sense of the goodness of God.” I cannot recall Gordon ever proselytizing in the classroom but Safari describes how, as he was the only evangelical Christian on staff, he threw himself with fervour in the evangelical work of the Christian Union that he was instrumental in founding. Gordon recounts how one of his students, David Gitari, a devout young man, took a leadership role in the CU, and later became Archbishop of Kenya (1997–2002).

As with any teacher, Gordon draws great satisfaction from the achievements of his students, many of whom achieved high office in Kenya, which gained its independence in 1963, as well as Uganda and Tanzania. He makes special mention of two of my classmates: Professor Yash Pal Ghai, who became perhaps the foremost expert in constitutional law in the world, and who has played an important role in drawing up the constitutions of several countries. The other is Maurice Kiwanuka who went on to be Professor of History at Makerere University.

It was in Kenya that perhaps the most important and certainly the happiest event in Gordon’s life took place. He married Elizabeth Hopkirk in Nairobi Cathedral on December 28, 1963. It was a marriage made in Heaven and a large part of Safari dwells on their life together, the family that they raised, the difficulties they overcame, the decisions that they made together and, throughout, the trust that they had in the Lords guiding hand. Sadly, Elizabeth fell ill in 2010 and the consultant gently broke the news that she had Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and that the illness was terminal. Elizabeth died peacefully on November 15, 2013, a month shy of their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Gordon was relieved that his dear wife and constant companion was spared further suffering but it is clear at the close of Safari that his loneliness is tempered only by the knowledge that they will surely be reunited one day.

For obvious reasons, this review has focused largely on the part of Gordon’s life that is most relevant to RTC alumni. I must mention that Gordon had to reinvent himself a number of times after his twelve-year stint at the RTC. It was quite a wrench for him and Elizabeth to leave a country they loved and start life anew in England. Gordon had applied for and been accepted for a job as Senior Lecturer at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. He settled in well but at the end of three years it became known that changes were to take place at the Naval College. Gordon felt the time was right to make a career change.

He was successful in passing the late entry examination for the Administrative Grade of the Home Civil Service. His career in the Civil Service took him first to the Ministry of Defence in Bath (1971–1976), then to Whitehall and the Defence Secretariat (1976-1979), followed by a stint with the Air Force (19791982), the Civil Service College (1982-1985), then on to Admiralty Arch and the Royal Navy (1985-1992) and finally the post of Director of Greenwich Hospital (1992-1994). Each of these appointments came with its own set of challenges but Gordon was not daunted. He handled the challenges with courage, integrity and all the skill and resourcefulness of an East African Safari Driver – all the while being a devoted husband and father. Gordon gives the credit to God – but we students must have done a good job preparing Gordon for the twists and turns he would face in life!

Gordon’s memoirs make for interesting reading, not just for his family and not just for his former students but for any reader. In his quiet, self-deprecating way, Gordon sets a sterling example for us of how to fulfill our duties, whether domestic or professional, with honesty and responsibility. Life is not always a bowl of cherries. Gordon faced his share of difficulties but he never shirked his responsibilities because he believed in the power of prayer and knew that the Lord would guide him on the right path. There is so much that his grandson James and Gordon’s other grandchildren will learn from Safari about how to go through life. Those of us who are nearing the end of our own journeys can draw inspiration from the strength that Gordon drew from God’s promise, given to him by his parents when he flew out to face unknown challenges in Kenya: ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’ Gordon ends his Safari stating, “I have found these words to be true in the past. They are still true today – and I know they will continue to be true in the days to come.”

Gordon, we are glad that God - and the winds of change - directed you our way.

Francis Noronha (RTC 1956-1958), Lethbridge, Alberta  October 10, 2017


* Please Note: The first edition of Safari of a Lifetime is sold out. A second print is underway. If you would like to order a copy, you are asked to e-mail Dr. Mungeam at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  His postal address is High Banks, High Street, BIDBOROUGH, Kent TN3 0UP. (Tel: 01892 544123). Please note that the book is not for sale but you are requested to make a freewill donation to Dr. Mungeam's designated charities. Donations for the first print were directed to Tear Fund for famine relief in East Africa. For the second print, all donations will be given to "Project800". This is a charitable fund for extensions and improvements to his local village church which is celebrating its 800th anniversary next year.

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