Former UK High Commissioner to Kenya Sir John Johnson dies aged 88

Sir John Johnson
Former British High Commissioner to Kenya, Sir John Johnson, has died aged 88

Sir John Rodney Johnson, UK High Commissioner to Kenya from 1986 to 1990 has passed away aged 88.

Born in India in 1930, he joined the colonial service after graduating with a degree in modern languages from Keble College Oxford, naming Kenya as his first choice where he became district commissioner.

One of his earliest homes was a bungalow with views on Mount Kenya where he lived with his wife Jean whom he married in 1956. Their property had no electricity, they had to cook on an outside stove and until they bought their own cow, relied on milk being delivered by a farmer from a churn strapped to a bicycle.

Among his jobs as district commissioner was to plant a tree during a ceremony and afterwards, one of the elders told his wife that if the sapling died folklore said that the man who had planted it would die shortly afterwards. To avoid any risk of this happening, Jean watered and tended to it until it was thriving. However, some years later it was chopped down to make way for an office block, but fortunately, the superstition had no effect on Johnson.

His first trip up Mount Kenya was to search for insurgents, who were found cold and hungry, with a platoon of policemen. After witnessing the final years of the Mau May insurgency and soon after Kenyan independence, Johnson returned to England and after passing the civil service exam, joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 

After a number of postings including Algeria, Bermuda and Nigeria, he became British High Commissioner in Zambia before returning to Kenya as high commissioner in 1986.

During this placement, he wrote two books, a brief history titled Colony to Nation followed by The Land and the People.

He was a member of the Mountain Club of Kenya and was reputed to have conquered every hill in sight, including Mount Kenya, which led the club to rule that all peaks in the country over 7,000ft should be dubbed The Johnsons.

Known as “Johnny Johnson” to diplomatic colleagues, he was a confident and cheerful figure who became an expert in Africa and was known for his ability to forge relationships with both African presidents and people.

In his later years, he settled in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, where he continued his passion for climbing by exploring every track in the Chilterns.

Sir John Johnson died on October 15, 2018 aged 88.

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