Tuesday, August 2, 2011



By Fred Omondi Ambiso

New Jersey, USA

July 30, 2011

Today we say goodbye to my brother and greatest friend Ben.

We will long remember Ben as the flag bearer of the Odotte family and their remarkable legacy; a supporter for those who had none; the soul of the Odotte family; the “mayor” of New Jersey; and a man whose affirmative and constructive actions have touched most in this hall today.

My name is Fred Ambiso; Ben is not only a close relative but also a great friend. We grew up together, attended the same primary schools and indeed lived around the corner from each other in Kisumu, Kenya.

The relationship between the Odotte’s or rather the Kojiem family and the Ambiso family is one that was cemented by our parents who were also the greatest of friends. We chose to continue with the friendship which continued to blossom with every passing year.

My relationship with Ben has therefore existed since childhood, and has evolved into a true, trusted and tested friendship -- which knew no bounds. We have always treated each other as blood brothers – and, indeed in 1975 when I lost my brother Arthur, it was not difficult to find someone to fill that void.

So what gives me the right to speak here today?

I am privileged to address this gathering because I am among the few who have been a witness to history, Ben’s history -- a history decorated with selfless deeds and a remarkable dedication to helping people.

His legacy will forever remain that of a peace maker and seeker of the helpless and the restless amidst the greater Kenyan community here in New Jersey. Ben was a natural community leader with extraordinary social skills. He delved tirelessly into multiple community projects, always lending a hand.

On the Internet hundreds of Ben’s friends have been pouring buckets of accolades. One mourner caught my eye when he admiringly described Ben as the “King of Community Welfare on the East Coast of The United States.

In life, there are only a handful of people who come into your world, and touch your life in such a dramatic fashion. Some people are just flickers of light during life, while others are consistent glows for years. For me, Ben was my consistent glow. He was my best friend for close to 45 years.

While growing up in Kisumu, Kenya, we separated briefly when he set off for Cardinal Otunga High School and I travelled west to Kakamega High School. Even though we joined different high schools, our interest in sports, especially in field hockey, always brought us together during sporting events. This, by the way, was the only time we were on opposite sides of anything.

On the hockey field we were fierce competitors but I secretly held him in awe. He was as passionate playing sports as he was forming and nurturing relationships. He was good enough to be selected to try out for the Kenyan national hockey team.

After high school, I made my way to the US and soon enough, I did everything in my power to re-unite with Ben. Within a very short time, Ben joined me in the US. And this indeed opened the flood gates for all my wonderful relatives within the larger Kojiem family.

We both attended Kean University for our undergraduate studies but were later to separate again when I moved to the state to Indiana. But as fate would have it, one Sunday morning I got the dreaded telephone call from Kenya that my father who was ailing, had passed away. I was jobless, lonely and quite desperate. My siblings haggled together to console each other, but there was only so much we could do, to deal with the blow we had just received

The following Monday morning , Ben called and informed me that he had marshaled a few troops with whom he organized a funds drive which raised enough money, enabling me to travel home to help bury my father. I will never forget that.

Since then, Ben has had a great history of facilitating similar events to many of his friends and relatives. This had become his trademark; he has orchestrated this miracle over and over again. I am sure that many in this hall today, are recipients of his goodwill.

Of all his friends, I believe I have been the principal beneficiary of the lessons I have learned as a result of watching him grow. I have had the benefit of always securing the front seat, learning how he brought people together. Through him, I have received an education on the true meaning of generosity.

His temperament and social skills have taught me so many lessons, many of which I would like to briefly address.

It would take me an eternity to list off all the special ways Ben has made an incredible difference in my life. I am a better person because of him. I believe that every person, in their own unique way, creates a legacy in their lifetime by which others can live long after that person has left us. For those of us who remain, Ben has created a legacy to uphold and fulfill in our daily lives.

Some of the lessons I walked away with, can be summarized as follows: Love, family, integrity and joyfulness.

Love: Ben Odotte was the embodiment of love. All his deeds and thoughts were centered on unqualified love. Love was the major fabric on which he created his tapestry of life. In the raising of his own children – he had deep love for his wife and fostered family bonding amongst his siblings. Ask any new family member or any friend who passed through his hands and you will hear stories of a great human being, a great teacher who offered nothing but unconditional love as they were learning the American way of life. The love that he spread so freely is the foundation which holds Odotte family together and it is what will always keep them together.

Family: Ben truly defined the word family as I have come to learn and live it. Holidays and family gatherings were the great celebrations they were -- because his genius touched everything. I watched family members like Doc and Amos grow up into amazing family men because of the traditional discipline Ben instilled in them. I have also witnessed his sisters raise beautiful and respectful children because of Ben’s fierce love of traditions and family. The Odotte family traditions in the US flourished because of Ben’s magic touch.

Integrity: Another element of the legacy that Ben leaves behind is that of integrity. His honesty made it impossible for any of his children or those of his siblings to act otherwise.

Joy: The fabric of the legacy Ben Odotte leaves behind was framed within his sense of joy and humor. A joy for life -- which was always enough to make us all smile no matter the circumstance.

Ben was capable of befriending practically everyone.

I know that we all have our own examples of moments when Ben would make us laugh; it is his contagious sense of humor that we will never forget. One thing I am certain of -- is that we all will continue to hear his laughter as we remember how much happiness he bestowed on us.

My good friend Ben ….you have meant more to us than you can possibly imagine. Whatever the distance will be geographically between us, you can look down upon us from heaven and know that we personally accept the incredible honor and responsibility of carrying on your traditions and love in all that we do.

You have created your own dynamic legacy of love, spirit, family, integrity, and joy. As the dove of life that represents all that you are -- now soars to heaven above -- it is now your time to rest, sit back in that big inviting armchair -- which is waiting for you in heaven -- and know that the world is a better place because of the legacy you leave behind.

To Ben’s wife Agnes, and to your three beautiful children, Rosie, Drew and Chichi -- We will continue to love you as if you are our own. I want you to know that we will be there for you during this difficult time. With the love and support of friends and family, we will all get past these sad times.

To Mr. and Mrs. Odotte and family, we may have lost him here on earth, but I know that heaven is rejoicing for having gained a new servant.

Ben will forever be missed, but I know in the right time, we will meet again.We will all meet Ben again and he’ll make us laugh one more time.

May we all be blessed!

Fredrick Omondi Ambiso

Ashburn, Virginia