Friday, April 24, 2020
The legend of high school folklore ~ Milly Kayongo
Paul Kyegombe - he was the legend of high school folklore.
You heard about him before you met him. Growing up in Gayaza where the traditional alliances were with the well-known Budonians, by the late eighties – we had heard of them. Those brilliant SMACK boys that would be our rivals for the USCE championships.
We had our stars and they had their stars. Paul was one of theirs. His unique talents and academic prowess were well known and admired. He excelled almost at everything- Math, the Arts, Sciences. And so, it was that at the A level’s he won that ultimate prize. AAAA! As we started the adventures of young adult life and college, our paths diverged. I went onto Medicine- where I would meet several of his contemporaries- while he pursued Architecture.
It was later in Atlanta that we would meet again. Like many in the Ugandan diaspora in search of the American dream, Atlanta - the Black Mecca- seemed a natural draw. Before long- I learned that the famed Paul Kyegombe had moved to Atlanta. I was excited to see him- with nostalgic memories from high school - I wondered what exploits he was up to now.
And indeed, he was doing great things, working with an Architectural firm in Midtown. We met for lunch at one of the Peachtree’s and I was eager to introduce him to my friends. To the tightly knit group of Ugandans we had formed at that time. I knew the girls would like him- a brilliant young bachelor and an architect. And they did!
The connections were boundless. We made potluck dinners in stuffy apartments and exchanged stories of growing up in Uganda. Life was good. And before long, Paul found his girl- a beautiful nurse with whom they would have a fine boy Solomon. As the community grew, and families moved into the largesse of the Atlanta suburbs, Paul was at the center of it. With his can-do spirit- nothing could stand in his way. An active community member, he created the now famed Atlanta Cranes, designing the graphics for team jerseys at a printer in his office. Soccer on weekends became a staple of the Ugandan community. The glorious days of Atlanta seemed unending.
Those too were the years of the Obama Presidency. Paul loved the Obama’s! They are the most featured of all his portraiture artwork- including the now famous Coffee Table book. It must have been his own indefatigable sprit that drew him to the Obama’s. President’s Obama’s “Yes, We Can”could well have been the mantra of Paul’s life. Unrelenting, determined. He pursued goals and accomplished them.
Even in the fight against this illness- those qualities that made him so special- were evident. I returned to Atlanta in May 2019, after friends told me about the surgery. It had been hard, but he was soldiering on.
We met at the Virginia -Highlands Art Festival. A beautiful spring day for the outdoors. Paul had a booth, with his artwork -portraits and skylines on display. And so, we talked Art, America, Uganda and Politics- all the wonderful things that he loved to have spirited debates about. A lot had changed- the disease had taken its toll- but he was positive as always. He would beat this.
I wanted to buy a momento of his artwork. Instead he donated me a piece; of that famous Atlanta Skyline- one of those MidTown high-rises where he started his career. It was the last time we would enjoy together.
I will miss you my friend. I will miss your brilliance. Your relentless and dogged spirit in all of life- whether in health or in sickness. Farewell my friend. You were like those shooting stars- that shine so brightly and then are gone too quickly. Heaven for sure has you in its arms.
Washington DC, USA
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