I knew Madame Ethel Mutharika just like many ordinary Malawians did. She was wife to the then United Party President Bingu wa Mutharika. Though she never directly participated in politics. Later, we saw her in Area 18 at here relations and funerals and various church events. Just like her Husband Bingu, Malawi's First Lady was a dedicated Christian.
She was a woman of faith, strong one for that matter. In her pain and suffering, she smiled, reached out to her women empowerment projects, did her farming and everyday from my City Centre office could see her four vehicle motorcade passing.
Yet she smiled and her family opted to spare Malawians that pain and remained strong in discharging their duties.
President Bingu wa Mutharika has carried his own family burden and that of the State without affecting the other. In many cases he sacrificed the love of his life for the burderns of the State.
As I became privileged to cover the President, the more I realised how the President relied on the first lady.
One day at a public event, as a Master of Ceremony, I stood up to stop a particular group dancing, the President nodded in agreement, the First Lady disagreed as the crowds were cheering.
I stood looking at both the President and the First Lady, she gave a nod to allow the women finish their dance. I assumed she stood up to the Head of State, many of us shake and fear for so many reasons as an equal partner.
I later spoke to her breifly after she allowed Youth to visit her Mitundu farm, she personally supervised it and had special interest in diversfying crops.
She was simple, soft spoken and deliberately choose her words. She knew the root to success and shared with the young people that almost "all avenues of life one can succeed"
For some reasons, she never sought publicity in doing her Ethel Mutharika Foundation work, the Executive Director or Trustees were the ones always put in front.
I know today despite her visible projects in districts like Salima, the Voice of Ethel Mutharika is rare, not because she did not do good, but because she was humble and gave to the poor without seeking anything, including even press coverage.
Later as she fought her pain, the First Lady still smiled. As many found excuses to attack the quite woman, she never responded or showed anger at many that came across her, will speak of her simplicity and curiosity on a number of topics one would raise.
Billy Kaunda's Tiwapemphere onse akudwala, was among evidently one of her best choices during a difficult period of her life.
I saw her smile and gave a thoughtful look from the VIP when Billy sang during the launch of President Mutharika's ma Business aphindu.
Kaunda sings, "Infa simathero azonse, koma ndi chiyambi cha moyo wina."
Travelling back from Niagara Falls on Memorial day, I lost my mobile phone. But something was a miss, I rushed to computer but nothing was there. I called a close freind and he asked me if I had checked my messages. I said no, he broke the news.
I say, despite the pain that she had to endure, there is a great reason to celebrate the life of Ethel Mutharika, who despite being the strongest woman in land, she never ventured into politics nor sought recognition for her works. Very few will be able to understand the lives she transformed in her projects through the Ethel Mutharika Foundation.
She was a proud mother of her daughters and one could see how much she entrusted them with her work.
She loved to inspire the ordinary Malawian woman.
Her Foundation made a very strong statement at its launch, it was a fundraising event, showing the way, that people have to first seek means of supporting themselves before asking others to come.
The Foundation had a strong fundraising team, which is split into various regions.
She inspired the Youth to venture into Agriculture. One of the Youth groups that were part of the delagation today have harvested enough crop for sale, the first times since they launched the organisation.
Her simplicity and dignity as the Mother of the Nation, would make her the most "remarkable First Lady" for a number of years.
Hearing the news of her demise, far away from home here, sadness comes into every Malawian heart.
She lived a life to the full, inspired many and her work hopefully will continue.
I am left with an image of dancing Ethel Mutharika during the luncheon with the Lilongwe Girls 2005 MSCE class, she was happy among the children. She was touched by those in need and taught women and youth how to be independent than follow a path of begging and handouts.
I know from deep down my heart, that She looks at Malawi and smile for her contribution.
Through her faith, we celebrate a Life of a woman whose presence before God will be answered by her deeds.
As she looked touched by Billy Kaunda's composition, I am sure she would want a nation that loves one another, takes care of the poor and those in need and more importantly we remain strong in our faith or belief's as she did to the end.
As she starts a new and eternal life, we cry, mourn and lament of her departure, But God knows her work on earth is done. She showed the way, she fought pain with grace, love and charity.
Celebrating her life with good deeds, reconciliation, love and spirit of sharing, would be a befitting to the First Lady.
The woman I proudly called in Tumbuka, "Mama wa Nation ya Malawi" and she smiled "Doesn't Nation have a Tumbuka word?"
I say go well Madame, you have left many lessons for the generations to come.
We share your loss to the President and the whole Family.
More importantly we recognise your faith as the most important tool we can all use to fight pain and challenges affecting our nation.
We cry because we are only human!
We seek you become our guardian angel to do good to one another
REST IN PEACE MAMA ETHEL MUTHARIKA
By Kondwani Munthali