When she saw me she did not even want to talk to me. She hid, but when she came out of the shop she was hiding in, I was also outside waiting for her.
Sam Frobisher Owori will be the second African to be President of Rotary International in Rotary’s 111-year history. Owori is the Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Corporate Governance of Uganda (ICGU) and a member of the Rotary Club of Kampala. Carol Kasujja talked to him and his wife Norah Owori about how they have made their marriage work.
When did you meet?
We went to the same primary school that is Kisoko Primary School in Tororo. She was in the girls’ section and I was in the boys’ section. We used to take the same route home daily and we had to attend church together, but we would sit in different places. It was a school policy that boys never sat with girls. After primary seven we separated. I don’t know where she went, but when I had finished my A’level, I met her again at the Post Office in Kampala when she had gone to check on her brother. By then she had also finished her O’Levels.
When she saw me she did not even want to talk to me. She hid, but when she came out of the shop she was hiding in, I was also outside waiting for her. Since we were both in vacation and I had gone to school with her brothers, I visited her at her parents’ home. When I visited I could tell that she did not want to be my friend, but I insisted and I requested her to be my friend. Eventually she allowed and we dated for six years before we got married. We got married in April 1970.
Oh! I think she was beautiful. She had character, was educated and well-behaved. I knew her family because I had gone to school with her brothers and I also knew their parents.
Is it true you never paid bride price?
Her father left all decisions to be made by her mother and since her mother was a born again Christian, she made everything so easy for me. All she wanted was for me to take care of her daughter and give her a good marriage. She was just waiting to hear the wedding date. She said she was not selling he daughter, so she did not ask for anything. It was in my will that I gave her father a cheque as a gift. Even the brothers did not say anything.
What has kept you together this long?
God is our pillar in our family. In our time when you got married, it was for life. There was no opting out. Even our background has played a big role. Our parents were together until death did them apart. We are two different people, but we try to accommodate each other. We respect each other; if I do not have money she understands. Money is not everything: today you have it, tomorrow you might not have it. If she wants a new dress and I tell her that I will not be in position to buy her one, she checks in her wardrobe and picks an old one. If I get money, I do not wait for anyone to tell me what to do - I just buy for her. We are transparent and help each other. We are born again Christians and hardworking, so we complement each other.
You were working in a bank, had money and knew people who matter, didn’t women disturb you?
I was lucky that they did not. You know, working in a bank has its own challenges. It does not give you time for mischief. It is intense and stressful and this solves certain problems. When I joined Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB) in 1967, I was sent for training in New York and when I came back, I was promoted, so I never had time to socialise. It was work to home. But it goes back to the background. My parents were married and I never saw them fight, so why would I entertain other women? Besides, I was married.
How did you handle staying with in-laws when you had just married?
In our time it was normal. My father was a chief and by his standards, we always had people around home. It was always full house. When we were growing up, we were all children. It was rare to tell who were my parents’ siblings. We were treated the same. It was such serious training, that even at King’s College Budo, I never ate my things alone. Having a Christian background also helps you to welcome all kinds of people at home. I paid school fees for my relatives and her relatives. We are not here for ourselves, so why not help? If you have an extended family, pay school fees for them so that you reduce on the problems. I have helped so many people, including some that I don’t even remember.
When I was at UCB, there was a student who was going to graduate, but he did not have shoes. I gave him money and he bought shoes. One day when I was in Mulago Hospital with a serious health problem that needed a specialist, this same man is the one who came. He heads that department and he was the one in the position to help me. I could not remember him until he introduced himself as the boy who came to my office asking for money to buy shoes. I felt good. It is satisfying to see people you helped successful in life. They are so many and I thank God that I do not even remember most of them. They just meet me and introduce themselves.
Why do you think today’s Father’s Union and Mother’s Union groups have failed to keep marriages together?
Society has changed and values are different. In the past, women were just at home so they had time for the meetings. These days they balance jobs and family. Even the Christian values of those days are different from the values these days. In the past, you knew you had a husband who would provide for the children. These days, it is ‘to whom it may concern’. People are not committed.
The marriage institution is under attack. How can we rescue it?
It takes two to tango. We need more debate on how marriage can be preserved. People should stop going into marriage for short terms. Parents should continue being responsible. Stability in marriage is the future of the country. When parents do not behave, children find refuge in peers. That is why they end up in crime and becoming a problem to the society. Parents should be available. Men should support their wives; they should not think marriage is a woman’s thing.
Why did you join Rotary?
I was invited by Prof Charles Olweny, but I kept on pushing it and dodging, but one day, for fear disappointing him, I decided to attend the fellowship. I started reading as much as I could find about Rotary and I liked what I saw. People were serving above self and I realised that Rotarians do not talk about themselves. But we want to change the image and start telling people what we do.
Is it true that Rotary is for the rich?
That is a perception people have and we want to change it. It is true most Rotarians are above the average, but it does not mean they are rich. They are just rich at heart and there is no apology about that. Anyone with a clean background can join Rotary. We have categories, if you are not comfortable in Rotary, you join Rotaract and we also have Interact at high school level.
You were once a president, governor and now president Rotary International, what do you have to show?
The list is long. if you go to any hospital and find a Rotary plaque, that is some of my work. I have done Polio elimination, improved Mwana Mugimu (infant nourishment) centre in Mulago hospital, we were teaching mothers how to feed their babies. We have helped equip and fund the heart institute. There have been water projects, education, among others.
Norah Owori’s side of the story
Of all gentlemen, why him?
He is handsome, educated, has good manners and he was from a good family. He also loved me. I could see it.
What challenges have you faced in marriage?
I do not really have major challenges. He has always travelled. When he was working with UCB, I was a stay home mum, but whenever he would travel, we always had people around home, so I never felt bored.
Since you always had a full house, how did you handle in-laws?
They gave us problems, especially the young ones, but since I was from a family where we always had people around, I knew how to handle such matters. My relatives and his gave me trouble, but it was easy to manage. Whenever I felt down, I would pray, thanks to my Christian background. But I forgave them all. The good thing is that those who used to think I was bad now think I am the best. They all like me.
Did your husband force you to join Rotary?
I took long to join because I did not see the need. It was a man’s organisation. Besides, I was too busy teaching Sunday school and in the Mothers’ Union. I actually joined Rotary just four years ago. There is a Rotarian who talked to me and I had started seeing the good things Rotary does. So I joined. We are not even in the same club. I chose a club near home.
You have 3 sons; don’t you want a girl?
We have a granddaughter. But there is no fuss over a baby girl. That is what God has blessed us with.