ITEN, August 15- On a solemn occasion that oscillated between tears and despair to cheerful applause, the most telling moment came when Evgeniia Zhgir, partner and soulmate to fallen International Athletics Consultancy (IAC) director, Zane Edward Branson, stopped his funeral ceremony on Saturday in Iten to request one song.
Placing her phone and external speaker on his brown and silver casket, she then opened José González’s Staying Alive song, a soulful tune that summed the life they enjoyed together until that dark July 25 morning when Branson breathed his last in the same town.
I will stay with you tonight/ Hold you close ’til the morning light/ In the morning watch a new day rise/ We’ll do whatever just to stay alive/ We’ll do whatever just to stay alive
That’s the chorus of the special number that bound them in life and will continue in death, with the second and third lines engraved on his marble grave to immortalise his favourite tune at his final resting spot.
The scenic backdrop of the Kenyan rift valley provided the perfect setting to the final journey on earth for the director who was interred on Saturday at the self-styled University of Champions where footprints of his life’s work were all there for all to see.
Hundreds of mourners, among them famous athletes from within and outside IAC, Elgeyo Marakwet Governor, Alex Torgos, family members from America, fellow Athletes’ Representatives to the common man converged at the renowned Kamariny Stadium where many a champions are moulded for the funeral service led by the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Kenya, Archbishop Makarios.
The ceremony that went on until sometime after 2 O’clock local time (+3GMT) when his casket was finally lowered to his final resting place inside Kerio View Hotel resembled like a roll call of distance running greats, past and present.
Former Boston Marathon winner and Cherangany MP, Wesley Korir, two-time world champion, Edna Kiplagat, two-time London titleholder, Mary Keitany, two-time Chicago winner, Florence Kiplagat were just some of the active distance running icons present at the service as part of a Hollywood cast in the sport.
Devastated leading IAC lights among them former world marathon record holder, Patrick Makau, two-time World Cross Champion, Emily Chebet , Boston Marathon third finisher, Wilson Chebet and Commonwealth 10000m women champion, Joyce Chepkirui joined their colleagues in paying their last respects to their manager.
It was a sombre occasion that mirrored what the late Branson lived for and passed on doing when a fatal heart attack claimed his life in the same town on the morning July 25 as his partner at IAC, Davos Savija, called out the group he represented as a manager, father, mentor and friend.
Addressing them one by one, Savija told them how much the fallen director cherished, cared and enjoyed working for them in an emotional rendition that had some overcome with grief and had to leave the queue in front of the brown and silver casket bearing his remains.
“If Zane was to see you here today, he would punch your shoulder and pinch you lightly to tell you everything would be alright,” Savija told one of those in line as others sought shelter in the tents for support when it became too much to bear.
– Best Example-
In his homily, Archbishop Makarios told mourners, “Zane is the best example of dedication and passion to something he loved. We do not believe people die, they just go to sleep to await the coming of our Lord, Jesus, Christ.”
Governor Tolgos announced the local County hospital would be equipped with equipment that could have saved his life on that fateful cold Saturday morning after the family requested his administration for specifications and list of items needed.
“They have brought a heart machine that will be placed at Kerio View first before the other equipment to prevent such deaths is installed at a place we have reserved for them in the hospital and we will name that part after Zane.
“I request all IAC athletes for a meeting to discuss how we can ensure his legacy in Iten and this region is never forgotten having worked so well to raise the standards of the sport in this County,” the County Chief told.
Among ideas floated to sustain his rich legacy includes having a road race in Iten annually on August 15 to mark his burial date.
Curiously, no Athletics Kenya (AK) national executive member attended the funeral despite the many years Branson, hailed as one of the best managers has worked with runners within and outside his management.
Local AK officials present apart from Master-Of-Ceremonies and coach, Boniface Tiren, retreated to the background.
Branson was on a light morning run with his associate Kip Evans when he collapsed and died soon after from a heart attack as they went to meet an IAC group led by Chebet.
Well the way I feel is the way I write/ It isn’t like the thoughts of the man who lies/ There is a truth and it’s on our side/ Dawn is coming
Open your eyes/ Look into the sun as the new days rise
Gonzalez’ s Stay Alive says almost as a personal tribute to the former music lover and promoter turned Athletics manager who was born in America and passed on among the people he grew to adore the most and will forever remain in their midst.