alexa Hitman’s role in building the enduring legacy of Starehe - Daily Nation

Hitman’s role in building the enduring legacy of Starehe

Monday March 25 2013


Roger Martin, a former Starehe head and author of the book Anthem of Bugles, recounts that when the famous Brazilian Footballer Pele came to Kenya in 1976, Patrick Shaw had organised the Starehe Centre’s first and second XI students to go “to Jamhuri Park to watch a training demonstration”.

After a disagreement between Kenya’s Football Federation and Pele’s sponsors, the demonstration was cancelled, leaving the boys, Pele, and the crowd of 12,000 high and dry.

Seizing the opportunity, “Shaw rushed the boy’s back to change into their uniforms and stand in for the missing teams”. Impressed, Pele visited Starehe the next day to present a silver cup to the students and put on a dribbling show.

Before boarding his plane back to Brazil, Pele cut a $5,000 (Sh425,000) cheque for Starehe.

“A man of determination” is how Geoffrey Griffin, Starehe’s founder and former director, described Patrick Shaw. He “knew where he wanted to go and took the shortest possible route to get there”, Griffin added.

It was in 1962, while on a tour in London to promote Starehe’s Youth-Helps-Youth campaign, that Griffin recounts first meeting Shaw.


Previously while on police patrol, Shaw had occasionally stopped his car outside the centre to observe the activities. While on leave back home in London, Shaw read about what the London press dubbed the “Sunshine Kids” and in turn made a call to Griffin’s hotel room to request if he could assist. Griffin obliged and Shaw acted as an escort for the remainder of the London visit.

Martin references that upon his return to Kenya, Shaw began to volunteer more for Starehe and eventually took up the chairmanship of the “house committee”, which was “informally responsible for the fundraising activities.” Shaw resigned from the agricultural service in 1965 and when Griffin offered him a position as administrative officer, at a very modest salary, he accepted. The two went on to become close colleagues and friends — a relationship that would last for nearly three decades.

In 1969, Shaw rose to the ranks of assistant director in charge of administration. Martin described Shaw as someone who brought “a willingness to shoulder any and every responsibility, and a meticulous attention to detail which were to prove of enormous value — above all his skilfull supervision of all the centre’s building operations”.

In his autobiography, narrated by Yusuf King’ala, Griffin details that if Shaw found a newly constructed wall that did not meet his approval, he would simply lean his massive weight on the side until it tumbled, and in turn, command the poor mason to rebuild it up to his specification.

He lived in a bungalow on the centre’s grounds, carrying his gun and a crackling hand CB radio wherever he went. Due to his work with the police and his deep-seated commitment to respond to all incidents, whether during working hours or not, some felt that his work at Starehe was neglected.

Griffin described Shaw as someone who never left his office until 8.30pm and could not understand the concept of what “mere mortals” termed a “holiday”. “He would occasionally spend a month or two visiting Britain, Denmark, Sweden, and Austria, seeing his family, renewing friendships,” Griffin recounted, “but still spending most of his time in actively raising help for Starehe.”

Shaw was also responsible for managing the extracurricular activities at the school, including the school’s fire-fighting squad. During one drill, King’ala alleges that Shaw directed the students to hose a British volunteer walking through the grounds (the two were not particularly fond of each other).

When the volunteer demanded that Griffin make Shaw apologise for his action, threatening to resign, Griffin did not budge, citing the incident as minor and his rant as “a storm in a cup of tea”. In the end the volunteer left.

It was not the only altercation Shaw had with a volunteer. One former UK volunteer, serving as a chemistry teacher, became fond of disciplining students by spraying a fire extinguisher in class. King’ala reminisces that he would warn students “show me your prep or I’ll have Mr Shaw sit on you” — Shaw earlier complained to Roger Martin that each time a fire extinguisher was used on a student for disciplinary purposes, it cost the centre Sh104 to replace the valve. “Perhaps you will request him not to do this in the future,” he sarcastically suggested in a memo.

The volunteer, in a farewell speech at the final assembly, brazenly insulted the educational methods of Starehe (before ending with a jab at Shaw himself by thanking him from “the heart of his bottom”.)

Not amused, Shaw ensured that the volunteer was detained at the airport on suspicion that he was carrying game trophies on the way back to England.

Shaw would also incorporate the help of the students in managing the Agricultural Society of Kenya shows in Nairobi and occasionally took them overseas for fundraising and promotion of the centre. Like the experiences with the Young Farmers Club, Shaw let the students get away with quite a bit — even allowing the boys to briefly fly the plane.

In one dramatic incident, a disorderly boy had punched a prefect, then tried to escape by feigning insanity to avoid being caned. He quickly crept under a building to block the director and administrator from reaching him. Attempts to flush him out were met with stone missiles.

As darkness approached the incident evolved into a veritable crisis. As a resolution, Shaw suggested employing the help of the city’s fire brigade to flush the boy out with a jet of water. Luckily, Griffin “vetoed” him (King’ala). Later, three students armed with garbage can lids as shields were sent to overpower and tie him up with a rope so he could be dragged out.

Frequently, and allegedly at the displeasure of Griffin, Shaw would at time take students with him on his nightly police patrols. In one instance, with the help of two boys, Shaw took down a street thief. The three were later presented with a “Guinness Stout Award for Courage”.

Kennedy Hondo, a former assistant to Griffin, recounts that on one evening in 1977 in Embakasi, Shaw with the help of three students and the police rescued a man stranded on a tree during a flood. A couple of weeks later near Nairobi West shopping centre, Shaw and a group of students rescued two Asian youths trapped on top of a car that had been washed 200 yards down the road — a boy was enlisted to swim out to the vehicle with a rope.

Street boys, also known as “parking boys”, were used as spies in his network and many were brought into the centre to be reformed. Besides using them to assist him in his police work and as spies, Shaw would encourage suitable students to enlist in the police, especially those who did not qualify for college. These former students would become integrated into the Nairobi’s “Flying Police” or nicknamed “Mr Shaw’s Flying School”.

— David Smith is researching the life of Patrick David Shaw. If the public wishes to share any information, stories or anecdotes on his life (as an agricultural officer, administrator at Starehe, and police reservist) or of the real-life characters covered in this story, please email [email protected] . The identities of sources will be kept anonymous and in strict confidence.