The mother of murdered Australian teacher Gabrielle Maina has spoken out for the first time in an exclusive sit-down interview with Fairfax Media this week.
Speaking with journalist Rachel Baxter on Wednesday, Janet Flanagan shared her memories of Ms Maina who was tragically shot dead in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on October 24.
“I would like her to be remembered for her life, not her death,” Ms Flanagan said.
I would like her to be remembered for her life, not her death.Janet Flanagan
The mother-of-two was farewelled at an emotional memorial service in her hometown of Armidale, in northern NSW, last week.
“We wanted to hold it in Armidale because that’s where she was born and where she grew up,” Ms Flanagan said.
Her brother, Simon Phillips, read the eulogy to more than 100 mourners at St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral.
“In so many ways, it’s hard for me to come to terms with her leaving so suddenly and so horrifically,” he said.
“She was a linguist, she spoke fluent Italian and she read voraciously.
“She played the violin and the piano and was ever the eager dramatist.
“Her intelligence enriched, informed and strengthened her empathy and care towards others and ensured that she impacted the world around her with wonderful depth and love.”
Ms Flanagan, who moved to Armidale with her first husband in 1969, said her daughter always had a passion to help others.
“Gabi went overseas straight after her HSC and worked in a fairly posh hotel for about six months, then she got the opportunity to go and au pair in Italy,” she said.
“By the time she finished there she spoke fluent Italian so she came back to Australia and actually got a job working as a carer for the Italian Frail Aged in Sydney.
“You have to be able to speak fluent Italian there because the old people, they don’t speak any English.”
Ms Flanagan said after Ms Maina finished school, the family moved to Port Macquarie.
“Gabi came and lived with us there for a while,” she said.
“She was a nurse’s aide and worked in a place called the Garden Village attending old people in a nursing home.
“She loved it and they loved her.
“When she graduated she became a prac teacher and actually got a letter from the Department of Education commending her on her efforts.
“I’ve talked to other people and they’ve never known anybody to get a letter like that from the Department of Education.
I’ve talked to other people and they’ve never known anybody to get a letter like that from the Department of Education.Janet Flanagan
“She was a very good teacher.”
When Ms Maina had her first son, Erik, she started an out-of-home childcare service in Sydney.
“She looked after preschool children in her own home and then ended up getting pregnant with her second child,” she said.
When the children, Erik and Thomas, grew up Ms Maina went back to teaching and the family moved to Nairobi.
“They all intended to move to Nairobi together,” Ms Flanagan said.
“Cyrus went with Thomas, the youngest son, and she didn’t want to let the school down that she was teaching at in Sydney at the time.
“She followed a few weeks later but they all virtually went together.”
Ms Maina was employed as headmistress in a junior high school and was working as the head teacher at Nairobi’s Hillcrest Preparatory School when she was shot in a daylight street robbery while walking on Miotoni Road in the upmarket suburb of Karen.
Initially, Mr Maina and his cousin John Njuguna Waithira were arrested in connection to Ms Maina’s death – news that shocked Ms Flanagan – but later released without charge.
“I was shocked because I’ve always gotten on really well with him,” she said.
“I can see why Gabbi fell for him initially because Eric (Gabbi’s stepfather) was very shy, extremely shy and a gentle person and that’s just what Cyrus was like.
“I think in the early days that’s what she saw and because she loved Eric so much she saw a lot of him in Cyrus.
“Although she probably never worked that out for herself, but that’s what I think.”
The pair met at University in Armidale in the mid-2000s and were married a short time later.
“They met at uni and he was doing some sort of financial course,” she said.
“His father went bankrupt and told him he couldn’t support him anymore.
“That’s when he and Gabbi decided to get married and he decided to stay out here (in Australia).
“He’s very intelligent and very hardworking.”
Close friends and family took the opportunity to share heartfelt words at Ms Maina’s memorial in Armidale, including her former roommate Tamara Morton.
“Gabi and I lived together in London just over 20 years ago, at a time when we were both discovering the world,” she said.
“Her love for life and everything in it was infectious.
“When I met Gabi she was working in a music shop, making ends meet so that she could continue in some form her love of music and language.
“She had such an impact on me that I decided if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Gabi because for me her name was synonymous with ‘joie de vivre’, which is such a valuable attitude to have in life.”
Armidale Teachers Association president Michael Schiffer said he remembered Ms Maina as an inspiring woman.
“I remember Gabrielle always had inspiring things to say about the work of teachers and the value of public education,” he said.
“I also remember visiting Sarah Redfern when she was Fed Rep.
“It was a busy morning but she was more than happy to make the time to support the work of the Federation.”
Investigations are continuing into her death.
According to the ABC, police are now investigating a possible link between the shooting death of Ms Maina and an armed robbery on the same road in March this year.