For a decade, Paul Mulinge has interacted with some high-profile persons in Kenya, but only when they are cold and on their journey to their final resting place.
Mulinge, 42, works for Lee Funeral Home and is the driver designated for the Mercedes Benz limousine hearse that is very popular with the who-is-who and dignitaries’ burials.
Behind the wheels, he treats the moment with utmost respect when all eyes are on him, with television cameras beaming live, police escorting him and hundreds of top-of-the-range vehicles racing behind as he chauffeurs departed bigwigs.
“It is a moment that needs diligence and understanding. You have mourning relatives in the car, a convoy of police vehicles, outriders with blaring sirens, the media, saluting police officers and mourners struggling to have a glimpse of the proceedings.
I must be the most responsible driver in that procession,” he says.
The hearse (KAW 091V), has been around for over 10 years, but became popular as a last ride for prominent personalities. Many hire the limousine hearse and insist that Mulinge transport their loved ones. Sometimes the deceased’s kindred come back to thank him.
Some of the high-profile personalities he chauffeured to their resting place include former First Lady Lucy Kibaki, businessman Jacob Juma, former Chief of General Staff Jackson Mulinge, Nyeri governor Nderitu Gachagua, former minister John Michuki and former Vice President George Saitoti.
Others are former minister William ole Ntimama, marathoner Samuel Wanjiru, politician Njenga Karume, former minister Shoita Shitanda and Internal Security Assistant Minister Orwa Ojode.
The hearse is worth over Sh10 million and costs at least Sh65,000 to hire for a day, according to Lee Funeral Home chief operating officer Paul van Brussel. “Distance and number of days will determine the price, but it is true the limousine is what many clients want even though we have other hearses.” says Brussel.
His three passengers include a colleague and two members of the bereaved family. He plays no music unless requested and makes no phone call while driving. He rarely engages with the bereaved family.
“They are overwhelmed, weeping and sometimes it touches me. We comfort them, especially when we have a family friend, which make it easier,” he says.
Has never been involved in an accident neither has had a mechanical breakdown while on duty. Mulinge takes care of ‘his ride’ like his pet, cleaning its engine and ensuring it does not lose its sparkle.
When it comes to state burials, the speed is determined by escort riders in order to get to the venue before the president or his deputy. His fastest ride was to Narok during Ntimama’s burial.
When the burial is over, he drives back inconspicuously, enduring traffic jams though some motorists recognise the hearse from newspaper photographs and TV news. But every time he wakes up, he says a prayer for his next client.