British man who built seven health centres in western Kenya dies from cancer of the ear aged 80

Barry Leonard Humber,
Barry Leonard Humber

Former philanthropist and professional builder Barry Leonard has lost his battle against cancer, aged 80.

British born Barry was diagnosed with an ulcerated right ear swelling in 2017 and had been receiving treatment for the past two years. Over the last couple of months, his condition had deteriorated, leaving him immobile, before passing away at his modest home in Malava, Kakamega North.

He had arrived in Kenya for the first time in 1976 after the Kenyan government signed an agreement with the UK to send professional builders to oversee construction projects in the East African country.

When the British builder – who held two PhDs, one in Building Science and another in Commercial Science and Special Building Technology – arrived, he found there were almost no professional builders which meant there was ‘a lot of work to do’.

Posted to western Kenya, he is believed to have overseen the construction and upgrading of St Luke’s Hospital-Kaloleni, Dreamland Medical Centre Kaptola-Kimilili, Nala Community Hospital in Kakamega along with health centres in Sirisia, Naitiri, Mautuma and Sio Port.

St Luke’s Mission Hospital
St Luke’s Mission Hospital.

In an interview, Barry said the Kenyan government had convinced him to stay after he had completed his professional obligations which had made him wealthy, owning a sizeable amount of land before applying to Kenyan citizenship.

Speaking about his life early in the Kenyan media he explained that when he arrived, he was only supposed to stay in the country for a year.

However, President Jomo Kenyatta said that they desperately needed his assistance as he had skills that they did not then have in the country.

Barry recalled: “The vice president Moi said he had spoken to President Kenyatta and told him.

“‘Here we have a man who understands us. And he is able to do what we have always wanted to do'”

He said that they had told him they had “asked the Queen” for permission to make him a Kenyan citizen and having fallen in love with the country, he agreed.

In 1976 he married Elizabeth at the Anglican Church of Kenya in Kakamega, and the couple settled in western Kenya, where Barry bought land which he put in his then-wife’s name. 

According to Barry, Elizabeth was a cook when the couple met, and together they adopted five foster children, including one who grew up to become a boda-boda driver and later tried and care for him after he lost everything and became ill.

Speaking to local media in 2015,  Barry described how his marriage turned sour after he caught her in bed with another man. 

He said: ‘My wife eloped with another man. She has sold all my property. I have been left with nothing.

“She sold all my 33 acres of land and now she is planning to sell the remaining land to render me a squatter in my own land.”

Later in life he lived in abject poverty exasperated by with a series of illnesses, relying on his son to feed him alongside donations from neighbours and friends who also helped to build the mud-walled one-roomed house he lived in until his death.

Villagers have described him as a one-time influential man who touched the lives of many through his architectural services and philanthropic activities.

Considering his past service and generocity to the country, his son has called on the government to help him cover the burial expenses.

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