THE DEATH of Canon Mutware William Iyakaremye Rugege evokes memories of a respected village elder as told by Chinua Achebe in his best selling novel, Things Fall Apart.
The village elder was eulogized by orator after orator at his funeral service as active, generous, and inventive. Yet Rugege, who was born in 1915, lived beyond all these qualities and this could perhaps explain why God gave him a long and healthy life that ended on Tuesday October 8, 2013 at Nakasero Hospital, Kampala.
A story is told of a young Rugege, who in the early 1920s, served milk to wandering singers who used to pass near his home on the hills of Rubona, Busanza in Kisoro.
In appreciation, the singers would praise him in Kinyarwanda: ‘Rugege kurugerero agira urasare kwijanja;’ (A hero on the battlefield has a wound on the palm of his hand).
That is how he becomes famously known by his nickname, Rugege which he later accepted as one of his names. He was God fearing, loving, generous and commanded respect for his humbleness and humility.
Rugege was the only child of his mother who died at child birth. His father, Ruziranenge, named him ‘Iyakaremye niyo Ikamena’ which is paraphrased to mean, The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.’
Married to Alice Nyirarukundo, Rugege served as a missionary in Rwanda at the time of the East African revival and for a long time as a school teacher in what was then Kigezi district in Uganda until he retired in 1970.
He moved to Omungyenyi, Rushenyi, Ntungamo district in western Uganda where he lived until he passed on.
In June this year, Canon Rugege developed intestinal obstruction, a complication that required surgery. The operation was performed in Kigali before he returned to his home in Omungyenyi.
Due to being weak and immobile, he developed a condition called deep vein thrombosis. Both legs developed blood clots which moved to the lungs and later succumbed to cardiac arrest and passed on.
During a requiem mass at the All Saints Cathedral in Kampala on Thursday, speaker after speaker narrated how Rugege touched their lives.
Unlike many funerals marked by tears and wailing, his was a celebration of a life well lived—an exemplary life as a model parent, husband and God-fearing person.
President Paul Kagame paid tribute to the late Rugege through a message of condolence to the bereaved family.
In his sermon, the retired Bishop of Ankole Diocese, Edward Muhima, said Canon Rugege was a man of impeccable and unquestionable character.
“Nobody knows the time of their birth and death – but how you use the time between your birth and death is entirely your choice. Canon Rugege lived his life well,” said the prelate.
Muhima eulogized Canon Rugege as a man of high intellect and wisdom who knew what to say, when to say, how to say and who to say it to.
His son, Sam Rugege, the Chief Justice of Rwanda, amused mourners when he told them how his father donated to him a nice red necktie given to him by All Saints Church because he knew him as a person who loves wearing ties.
“He treated all people equally. I remember whenever he visited me in Kigali and we went out to a restaurant, he would converse with the waiters and by the time we leave he would have written down their names,” said Sam Rugege.
Andrew Rugege, another son, also spoke of his father as one who preached and practiced fairness. “I am where I am today because my father instilled in me a sense of duty, integrity and fairness for all," said Andrew, the ITU Regional Director for Africa.
In a message read by her son Bob Kabonero, Canon Constance Kabonero described Rugege as a true family friend who greatly loved her family. Just before he became sick, his Christian life was crowned by becoming a lay canon of the Anglican Church.
“We became friends when he used to visit me in the United States, where we used to take long walks together in the morning,” Prof. Geoffrey Rugege, the former executive director National Council for Higher Education in Rwanda, said of his father.
But that is not all to Canon Rugege. What is most outstanding is that his love for God and his faith remained steadfast even in the face of strong temptation.
Dr. Ben Mbonye, a nephew to the deceased, narrated to mourners how he was at one time tasked to deliver a message to Canon Rugege about the death of his dear wife, Alice in 1999.
“The family sent me to tell Mzee the sad news. When I reached there, I pulled a chair and got close to his bed,” he said, adding; “Before I could speak, he looked up and asked me where Alice was. I replied and said she is gone.”
“I looked down and he parted me on the shoulder and I found that he wore a broad smile on his face.”
At this time, Dr. Mbonye said, Canon Rugege told him that; Nicyo Imana yashimye, reka dusenge,’ meaning “that is what God has willed, let us praise Him”.
He was laid to rest at his home in Omungyenyi, on Saturday October 12, 2013.