Catherine: a trailblazer


1st March 1936-22 October 2017.

On the 22 nd October 2017, Catherine Zawedde Kisumba passed away peacefully at her home in Muyenga, Kampala. She was an outstanding mother of four, a grandmother of three and a great- grandmother to two boys. Outside home, she was celebrated as the first woman pharmacist in Uganda(1960) and among the first in East Africa. She came from a privileged family; her father had been the finance minister of the Buganda Kingdom in Uganda. She attended the prestigious girls’ school- Gayaza High School up to Ordinary Level. She excelled as an all-round student but had a knack for mathematics.

In her quest to become a medical doctor, she had to transfer to a co-educational school- Kings College Buddo to study chemistry and Physics at Advanced Level. By then Gayaza High school was not offering those two subjects. After some months of uncertainty and teasing, she and her best friend Alex Sempa settled down comfortably. They both passed so brilliantly that they won themselves Buganda governmemt scholarships to study pharmacy at Bristol College of Science and Technology in the United Kingdom. Alex later changed to Human Medicine and graduated five years later to become the second Uganda woman medical doctor after Dr. Josephine Nambooze ( 1959)

Catherine graduated as a pharmacist, worked for some time then returned to Uganda in 1962. She was that unique person who had brains, beauty and modesty so it was no surprise that in the same year she got married to an old Budonian: Dr. David Kisumba who later became a professor and head of Orthopaedics. Much later in 1976, Catherine’s niece : Winnifred Kalagi Senoga, another mathematics wizard from Gayaza High School was among the first women to graduate from Makerere University Faculty of Engineering and Technology . She currently works with Eskom, the South African electricity public company. A year later, Sarah Nalumansi Senoga graduated among the first women engineers from the University of Nairobi, Kenya.

Catherine worked diligently as  a pharmacist in many hospitals in Uganda including Mulago, Gulu, Masaka and Bombo. She rose through the ranks to become a Principal Pharmacist and a tutor at the Pharmacy Technician training school at Mulago Hospital. After ten years of exemplary service, she joined the private sector. By 1980, she was running her own pharmacy: Equator pharmacy along Johnston Street in Kampala. For many years she was a member of the Executive Committee and Pharmacist Advisor of the Uganda Red Cross Society. She also represented the Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda on the Committee on National Formularly.

I have known her for more than four decades. She was an extremely intelligent person, was passionate and terribly confident. She was every inch a pharmacist both at the office and at home. She was incredibly organized; everything had a place and there was a place for everything. She defined her image and statement and lived them then protected them jealously to the end. She carried herself with dignity and respect and was treated likewise.
At the Equator pharmacy, she always looked the part as the managing director and the staff always welcomed and served us with a genuine smile. It was very reassuring to know that whatever product you bought from the pharmacy was the real ‘McKoy’, be it the simplest cough linctus or cream for eczema. You always went back for more. She was a warm and loving person who cared about people and made them know about it. She valued her friends and was incredibly loyal to them. Adelina Lubogo her best friend since childhood can attest to this.
As a mother, her family came first; she nurtured, guided and sustained them with a lot of love.
Her greatest joy was when she served on the board of the Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda along with her daughter; Jennifer Nakabugo Kisumba. Jennifer is currently a practsing pharmacist in Los Angeles, USA.

Catherine lived her life with purpose; mentoring and tutoring many young girls and men. Throughout her life, she was always willing to give back to the two schools that shaped her. She gave of her time, energy, knowledge, skills and money.
In her last years, she was enormously grateful for what she had achieved in the fifty years or so but as a trailblazer she was greatly unsettled by the huge shortage of trained pharmacists in Uganda. Uganda has a population of close to forty million yet it has less than five hundred licensed and practsing pharmacists! This works out to one Pharmacist serving 100,000 people compared to the recommended World Health Organisation ratio of 1:1,000. However she was lightly comforted that Makerere University which started offering a 4-year degree course in Pharmacy with 10 students in 1988 was now admitting about 60 students annually. Catherine created her success, managed and protected it. Her success left indelible footprints for others to follow. She opened the way so it is now for the young ones to pave it with gold as they write their own stories.
The following two quotes are very relevant to us today.
“All good men and women must take responsibility to create legacies that will take the next generation to a level we could only imagine.”
– Jim Rohn (1930-2009) American entrepreneur and author.

Shannon L. Alder- inspirational author: “ Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.’’

Catherine, I had to share your story out of my admiration and immense respect for you. Thankfully, a part of you became a part of me.


Thank you for reading this post. Feel free to share it with family and friends. May it encourage you to give of your best wherever you are.



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