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A Tribute to Howard Crooks

The late Howard Crooks was an amazing father, husband, friend, colleague and leader. He was a gentle spirit who will be remembered for his kindness, selflessness, compassion, and integrity.

To keep Howard’s memory alive, we approached some of his closest friends to share with us their fondest memory of Howard.

“We moved to Kenya in the mid-1980s and met Howard and Nancy shortly after arriving. Howard had the idea of opening a “Tex-Mex” restaurant in Nairobi. Having grown up in the Southwestern part of the US, I was a big fan of “Tex-Mex” cuisine and keen on working with him to make it a reality.

I had set up a private equity fund in Kenya and one of our first investments was in Gringos. It was one of the most “fun” investments we made and I thoroughly enjoyed working with Howard and he became a very dear friend. Gringos became a great gathering place for people of all nationalities and ages, and we spent many afternoons and evenings there enjoying food, drink and the company of like minded friends!

A group of we Americans formed a softball team and Howard agreed that Gringos would be our “sponsor”; so, Gringos became the name of our team!

I will always have very, very fond memories of both Howard and Nancy.”

Bruce & Diane Bouchard

“I knew Howard and Nancy for very many years as they, in particular Howard, were frequent travel clients of mine and we became firm friends over the years, and Nancy always made sure that I was invited to whatever do or entertainment they had at their house. Whilst Howard had so many stories to tell, about his very interesting and varied business life, at this moment I don't really recall anything that was particularly amusing or funny, although I am certain there were many of those.

The only story I can recollect, is about the fact that during the time he and Nancy were living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, because he had a large construction business there, Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown and murdered in 1974, a reign of terror took hold in that country and the Crooks decided to move to Kenya.

Howard realized that he would have to leave behind and lose all his road construction equipment, but there was one piece of equipment he was determined to bring to Kenya, and so Howard arranged for one of his huge and very expensive construction equipment to be smuggled out of Ethiopia to Kenya.

I think it took him several trips to Addis to find someone brave enough to take on that daunting task as it could have had serious consequences for both the brave man who agreed to that caper, (no doubt because of an offer of a large sum of money) , and for Howard, it would have meant a possible lengthy jail term for both men at best, or even death at worst.

That is how Nancy and Howard came to live in Kenya for the rest of their lives. They were much liked and very popular, I don't think there was ever a day when they didn't have visitors at their house.”

Maggie Von Lekow

“So many fond memories of Howard….his laughter, his jazz music, his passion for life, his devotion and support of Nancy, their rather feisty exchanges, his wonderful and interesting friends…always lively conversations at their dinner table. When living in the casita, one night during the monsoons I heard an unnerving scratching in the wall…next morning, there was a gigantic drowned rat on the side of my guest house…..I screamed, “Howard, there is a huge dead rat over here.” He said, “don’t worry, I won’t raise your rent!” He always had a quick wit and smart response with that I got ya grin. I loved sending him political emails…with his laser sharp mind, he kept up on world affairs and had strong opinions about what was going on. Howard and Nancy were my touch stones for Africa.”

Nancy Dahl

“We met Howard in Ethiopia in 1973 when his company provided a survey camp for

Whitestone in the Ogaden. We often visited him and Nancy in Nairobi and have lovely photos of Robyn with the bushbaby. Over the years, we’ve often remembered how he’d come to dinner at our house in Addis Ababa, usually having arrived from Nairobi with a whole rib-eye or turkey in his luggage. He would lean on the mantelpiece and drink his coffee while Robyn and I drank wine, and he was often the jolliest of us all. I hadn’t seen him for over a decade when I called him in 2006 to say I was coming to Nairobi. I knew he was about 80 and I was wondering how he’d be bad timing. He said, “I’m riding the jump seat with some guys into South Sudan this afternoon to visit the camp.” That was quintessentially Howard. I admired that and hoped I could be the same.

After Nancy died, we also admired the care and effort he put into continuing her work in Kenya and have been pleased to provide a little support to that along the way. He was an original. We’ll miss him.”

Peter and Robyn Purcell

“Howard was a dear friend of almost 30 years and role model fellow "Thunderbird" (Thunderbird School of Global Management). He was class of '54 and I of '84. Howard embodied the special sauce of the school -- "The Thunderbird Mystique".

A globe-trotting, serial entrepreneur, Howard recognized opportunities where others saw none or feared taking the risk. He always welcomed new graduates and new friends and offered encouragement, sound advice and moral support to help others pursue their own entrepreneurial ambitions. And while there were areas on which we might disagree (politically, mostly), discussion was always lively, warm, witty and respectful.

He was a treasure and is sorely missed.”

Ricarda McFalls

“I was in Kigale, nearing the end of the dreadful genocide in 1997 when, striding along towards me I saw Wyatt Earp together with an old army friend of mine. The mate was Bill Simpson and Wyatt Earp was Howard, his long legs in blue jeans, wearing his hallmark brown cowboy boots - drooping moustache and all.

We know Howard was an 18 year old marine at the Tarawa battle in the South Pacific in November 1943 and wonder now whether he may have been the oldest marine still alive from that battle.

I also met Howard in Kosovo, Somalia and other trouble spots. In 1998 my wife joined me in Nairobi where I was working for UNHCR and there we met Howard and his inspirational wife Nancy. We have many fond memories of ‘Crooks’, their home in Spring Valley, with its lush tropical garden: swimming in the pool with Yankee, their Labrador, and the Tequila lunches.

They had endless stories to tell of Kenya in earlier times: of the Mt. Kenya Safari Club which had previously been frequented by Hollywood film stars. We much enjoyed our lunches and safaris together to the Naro Moru River Lodge, the Delamere Camp and other Rift Valley locations. ‘I once knew a guy’ was often the start of another of Howard’s anecdotes! His stories and jokes continued to come in emails right till the end of February this year!

We last saw Howard, some 8 years ago. He had moved to a smaller house, almost identical to Crooks, as Nancy, his beloved wife and companion for the best part of his life, had sadly passed. Howard began the Nancy Ellen Crooks Foundation in order to continue the work that Nancy had initiated for women and especially children. At the age of 88 or so, for companionship, he typically acquired two Labrador pups, Yankee II and Daisy, who were always at his side.

He still got up at 4.30 am to watch CNN and seemed to keep in contact with as large a circle of family and friends as ever. Jackson, his ever loyal helper and driver, drove him in his beaten-up ‘Jeep’ (which mostly seemed to run on vapour) to his various lunch appointments in and around Westlands or Karen. When asked what he would like to drink, he would reply, giving it a lot of thought: ‘I’ll have sparkling water, a dash of angostura bitters, a lot of ice and a slice of lemon’.

Howard, here’s to having known you: one of life’s best, the epitome of an old-style traditional American, from your twinkling eyes right down to your much-admired immaculately polished brown cowboy boots.”

Jim and Di Vale

May Our Beloved Howard Rest in Eternal Peace

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1 Comment

Oct 26, 2023

My heart will forever be heavy with the loss of you both. My love and memories will always remain bright within me.

Seinna and Team thank you for nourishing and growing The Nancy Ellen Crooks Foundation (NECF) it makes a huge positive impact to Kenyan kids lives while in remand prison with their mothers.


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