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Obituary: Helen Thornton-Mutiso (TU 1982-84)

Helen was born in Devon England to Geoffrey and Fay Thornton. She went to Marlborough College in the Sixth Form and then on to Cheltenham College of Art and Design to study fashion. Naturally creative and highly intelligent (she was a member of MENSA) Helen was frustrated by the teaching methods and left College early. She had several different jobs, including setting up her own millinery business, working for Principles for Men, and in IT, but her heart and genes were firmly rooted in nature. Her maternal grandfather, Fred Nutbeam, was Head Gardener to the Queen at Buckingham Palace for 25 years and had an Azalea named after him.

Helen first came to Kenya in 1999 and began working in IT with Protec, but her love of nature was impossible to stifle. She met Kenya Mutiso in 2005 through their mutual interest in trees and forestry. Together they founded African Forest in 2006 at their home on Soysambu Estate with a vision to plant forests all over Africa and create the first indigenous tree seed bank in Kenya. Using organic methods and predominantly indigenous varieties, their tree nursery today has over 80 species of hardwood timber trees, and an initiative dubbed Planet Positive Forestry, which involves inter-cropping indigenous and exotic trees to create forest food gardens to support rural wealth generation.  Research & development, forest management, carbon offsetting, developing the medicinal values of trees and sustainable timber are all part of the African Forest business model. Helen and Kenya married in September 2008.

Helen was a fabulous cook who often adapted recipes; she was very widely read and knowledgeable with an encyclopedic memory. She applied her inexhaustible energy to everything she embarked upon, including her battle with cancer, which she fought stoically and with great courage for ten years. Helen is survived by her husband Kenya, daughter Zinzi, her parents Geoffrey and Fay and brother Simon.

Helen leaves behind a legacy in African Forest, which Kenya will continue to develop and grow in her memory.