I spotted Jacque Ooko's mettle as a journalist on my first assignment in Nairobi, Kenya. We were at a rural hospital outside the city, in the middle of a doctors strike. As people writhed in pain, desperate for medical attention, she had somehow talked the only administrator in the place into letting us in and then started talking to all the patients.
She disarmed everyone with a smile. Her patience, her gentleness always paid off — but more importantly, Jacque was driven by her commitment to journalism. She wanted us to get into that hospital so we could tell the world what a months-long dispute between doctors and the government was doing to the wananchi — the regular people of Kenya. And thanks to her, we did.
Jacque, a veteran radio journalist who had worked as an assistant for NPR in Nairobi since 2014, died early Friday morning from complications of amoebiasis. She was 37 years old.
Irene Nasimiyu, her brother's wife, says Jacque was a jovial woman.
"You would not know Jacque was in pain because she was always smiling," Nasimiyu said.
I learned that during these past presidential elections. She was sick but called me anyway, insisting that she wanted work. She was too frail to come out to the field with me but still monitored press conferences and made phone calls for NPR from her house.
Jacque started her career at state broadcaster KBC and spent most of her professional life at Baraka FM, where she rose to become the head of news. For the nonprofit Internews, she helped train dozens of journalists — her radio trainees are scattered all across Kenya.
On many occasions during the past few weeks, Jacque lamented that she could not be out on streets to cover the twists and turns of the Kenyan presidential election that was found to be unconstitutional by the country's Supreme Court.
Jacque loved politics, and she loved Kenya. She always told me that she dreamed of a home country that shed tribalism and punished corruption. Like all good journalists she was a skeptic, but not once did I ever see that erase her hope.
Jacque's father, Francis Ooko, says she was like that in her personal life, too. At a young age, she adopted her sister's son, and she was the rock of the Ooko family.
"She was social, she was amicable, very hard-working," Ooko said. "She was everything."
Her death, he says, is devastating. Jacque is survived by her father, her mother and her two sons, Leon, 8, and Jayden, who will turn 2 next month