BERRY NANSIMBI JAGWE ( 1937- 2021).
For those who passed through mixed schools, it was common to find high school sweethearts. For the laggards, like this writer, dating couples were a curious sight. Actually certain mixed schools are known to forbid dating, seeing such as an unnecessary “puppy- love” distraction. But in any case as many know, the moment high school sweet hearts walk out of the gates of their school enclosure, the once fiery relationship soon cools off, opening way to other determined and more sober suitors.
Now, there are those amazing relationships that survive, against odds, and go on to bloom long outside school campus gates, living behind a colorful legacy. Like Berry who met her beau, Jack, while students at King’s College, Budo, back in 1956.
When Kattikkiro Apollo Kaggwa visited England in 1902 as guests of Her Majesty’s government to attend the coronation of King Edward V11, along with his secretary, Hamu Mukasa, what struck him most was a visit to Eton, a school dedicated to train British nobility for future leadership. Upon return in 1906 Kaggwa conceived the idea of founding a school to cater for Buganda aristocracy- King’s College Budo. Indeed, initially the school that rises atop a hill where for 500 years Baganda kings are crowned, only catered for children of Baganda nobility.
For her administration, the school relied on imaginative missionary headmasters largely from England. But these missionaries once they met the Kaggwa quota of catering to children of the Baganda aristocracy, sneakily went out to recruit talented children from all over Uganda, many of humble background, but with much promise. Indeed, it is to the credit of these missionaries, most of whom too came fame from British nobility, graduates of Oxon- Cambridge universities, that the school blossomed to attract not just Ugandans but Africans who went on to distinguish themselves in their different callings around the world.
Budo had already recruited from Kako Secondary School, a talented young man called Joash Mayanja- Nkangi, later to ably serve as a Prime Minister of Buganda and be a long serving cabinet Minister in the Central Uganda government. One day headmaster, Timothy H Cobb, heard of another promise- a bright chap called Jack Jagwe who had skipped two classes and topped the district in Junior secondary exams. Upon getting an idea of this academic star, Cobb, immediately awarded him the King’s George IV Scholarship to join the famed school.
Unlike many of the children he was later to meet at Budo Jack was coming from a humble family. His father, Ganafa, was a carpenter and modest coffee farmer based in Masaka area, while his mother Asinasi, was a housewife. When Jack Jagwe joined Budo in 1954 he was not aware that the class that Cobb had assembled was to be a gathering of some illustrious lads who would go on to leave an indelible footprint on the nation of Uganda and the globe. They took the name “Jubilantes,” as it is in their year when the school marked her fiftieth anniversary.
First, in the class was a young man from Butambala district called Laban Bombo, who after marrying this writer’s eldest sister, Alice Nakyejwe would later return and replicate his life’s Christian values, serving for over three decades as the School chaplain and mathematics teacher, inspiring a generation of Budonians now spread around the world serving humanity. There was Fred Kayanja, who in a long and fitting academic career would win France’s highest academic award Odre de Palmes, and serve for over two decades as founding Vice Chancellor of Mbarara University of Science & Technology. Jack’s best friend, Phares Mutibwa, who in his year topped the whole of East Africa in the final exams would go on to become an accomplished professor of history of Uganda and Malagasy. John Nagenda, became a star cricketer and writer of note, along with luminaries like the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. Several classmates would go on to serve as cabinet ministers in a number of governments: Edward Kakonge and Al Haji Jamada Luzinda. There was Charles Nyonyintono Kikonyogo, later Governor of Central Bank, the outspoken parliamentarian and lawyer Al Haji Nsubuga- Nsambu. A number in this class would join the medical profession: Dr David Serwada, Dr Edward Kizito, Dr William Mugerwa, and of course Dr Jack Jagwe.
Others distinguished Jubilantes include Fred Ssemazzi, Michael Mulyanti, James Senabulya, Perez Kamunanuyire and a three girls namely; Beatrice Bajenja (Mrs. Rwanyarare), Christine Kisiriko and Jane Kentembwe (Mrs. Rwakitarate).
Two years after joining, a beautiful girl called Berry joined the school coming from Kyebambe Junior School, in Mbarara district. Her family was one of many Baganda families that had migrated and settled in Ankole after the later 19th century wars. They were requested to serve in Baganda- British collaboration administrative posts. Berry’s father, Nasanairi Balimukubo, was a World War 1 veteran, who after the war was rewarded as Deputy County chief in Kiabatsi, South West Ankole, where he settled to start a family of eventually 18 children. After one of his daughters, Berry, had excelled at her studies she too earned a scholarship to the school, with Budo again courting the best and brightest kids from all over Uganda.
By then headmaster Cobb after being impressed with Jack’s leadership qualities had appointed him as Head prefect, to be deputized by Fred Kayanja and Laban Bombo. In 1933 Budo had opened her gates to admitting girls but the population had remained minimal. For instance, in Berry’s class year, there were only three girls perched in between a class of gangling boys. They would take the name of “Trojans”, and like Jack’s class year, would go on as well to distinguish themselves.
From the Trojans came the school’s first African Head master, Dr Dan Kyanda; two Prime Ministers of Uganda, Kintu- Musoke and Prof Apollo Nsibambi; once minister of Justice, Steven Ariko; an Inspector General of Police, David Barlow; a Mayor of Kampala Fred Ssemaganda; medics- Drs John Ottiti, an optician and Christopher Ndugwa, a pediatrician. One star athlete in this class, Moses Nsereko, would rise to become Under Secretary in Ministry of Internal Affairs, only for his life to be crudely cut short when he was charged with espionage by the Idi Amin regime and executed by firing squad in 1976, a blow which all his classmates would never get over.
Budo boys can apologize to some faults but one which it would be hard to catch any sympathy is lack of self-confidence, bordering on the extreme. Surrounded by these alpha males, one can imagine the attention the gorgeous Berry was lavished along with her friend, Elvania Namukwaya, who in later life would become a famous play writer. Boys would swoon and chaperon over these few girls with proposals, or as it was then called “applications.” The competition could be stiff.
It is here that Jack too ventured his luck and submitted an “application” to Berry just four months after admission.
Perhaps because he was the Head prefect, or that he was a star academic performer and would later top his class as the best science student in East Africa, or just because he was so good looking, out of a bee hive of frantic suitors her heart opened to the boy from Masaka. Once it was clear that Jack and Berry had something going, and, were steady, it scattered off the furious competition.
The heat of high school relations tend to simmer off once love birds walk out of school gates. This one was to be different. Jack was admitted to Makerere University medical school while Berry would go to Buloba and Kyambogo Teacher Training College where she qualified as a teacher. The dentist, Dr Martin Aliker, who had left Budo in 1947, in his memoirs, “The Bell is Ringing,” writes that it was common for Makerere University boys to go out scouting for girls in surrounding night clubs like Suzzana in Nakulabye or nurses hostel. But Jack only concentrated on his books while holding steadfastly on to his proposal to Berry. Since those were the days of postal letters, the distance must have been bridged with prolific correspondence.
A year after graduating in 1964, Dr Jack Jagwe, exchanged vows of holy matrimony at St Paul’s Cathederal, Namirembe with Berry, blessed by the long serving Canon Benon Lwanga. The best man was Phares Mutibwa, Jack’s old Budo friend, who had seen it all start. The couple hosted their guests at the Queen’s courts at Makerere University, and thereafter fled for a honeymoon at Tropical Inn in Masaka, The hotel was being managed by a Budonian, Nathan Bakyaita, who would later give the Jagwe’s, a son in law, Dr Nathan Bakyaita ( Jr).
Having settled into family life the young Jagwes did not waste time. A year after marriage Berry gave birth to Anne Nanziri Nabankeme, who would be followed in quick succession with their daughters, Julian Nasseje Namyalo, Elizabeth Nabwami, a son, John Nakalubo, and finally rounding off with another girl, Slyvia Nansimbi Namagga.
While Dr Jagwe pursued his medical profession, going in 1967 to England, where he graduated with a Membership of the Royal College of Physicians award in 1970, for Berry it was pursuing her teaching profession. She was appointed a teacher at Nabisunsa Girls School, where she would meet this writers’ future mother in law, and later to play an important part in her life, by connecting her to a searching bachelor, Edward Kasolo- Kimuli, later a long serving Headmaster of Makerere College School and Chief Inspector of Education.
In 1970 Berry was appointed the first African Headmistress of Gayaza Junior School. Meanwhile Dr Jagwe was appointed as Consultant at Mulago hospital, a job which came with the perk of having residence in upscale Kololo. They lived simply as shared by their son, John, in his book “The story of a Ugandan Physician.”
Because of the distance from Gayaza, Berry eventually decided to retire from teaching, making a career switch to banking by joining Uganda Commercial Bank. There she was tasked with coordinating staff trainings at the Manpower Development Centre. Concurrently, she continued with her voluntary work of mentoring young women and eventually she was elected President of YWCA. In that role, she had an opportunity of representing Ugandan women in several international fora and meetings which included the unforgettable Beijing conference in 1995. Prior to that, she had the opportunity to deliver a speech in an audience graced by Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey in another grand women emancipation meeting.
In 1990 the Jagwe’s celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. At that function, one of Berry’s former teachers at Budo who saw their friendship start, Professor Senteza- Kajubi, twice Vice Chancellor of Makerere University, remarked that he had never seen one of them not in the company of the other, a testament that none of the warmth that began on Budo hill had phased. .
After being promoted as Medical Superintendent of Mulago Hospital and later a Director of Medical Services, the Jagwes, ageing retired to a quiet life in their residence at Bunga. There they teamed up with several couples to form a cell as members of St John Kawuki church. They continued to engage in community activities with Berry returning to King’s College Budo as a Member of Board of Governors and signatory to the school account for a decade. Meanwhile Jack, now a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (FRCP); was appointed to serve as the founding Chair of National Drug Authority and serve on the Boards of several public and private boards, chairing for many years the Board of Mengo hospital.
At the couple’s 50th anniversary, Prof Mutibwa, the couple’s best man shared, “Berry discovered something special in Jack …she opted for Jack and she never looked back. I admire her for her rare insight and I commend her for the choice she made. It is such memories that give such pleasures in life, to see two starting to love each other and in their teens, to keep that love burning despite many odds and in the end get married and start together for a period of 50 years which we celebrate now.”
Over the years Berry developed a debilitating condition of diabetes, which started restricting her movements. On April 12th 2020, her son, Dr John Nkalubo Jagwe, happened to call her. Though in apparent pain she stoically only inquired about his welfare and the grandchildren. Almost half an hour later after hanging up, John, received a call that his mother’s condition had worsened and was being rushed to Mengo hospital. He rushed to the hospital to meet her there. But upon arrival she was pronounced dead.
Jack and Berry had been together for 65 years since they met on the bright Budo hill, bringing to a quiet close a beautiful love story with a colorful legacy.
The writer is an Old Budonian and Associate Professor of Management, Uganda Christian University, Mukono