She was the “champion”, a “national heroine”, “remarkable”, “true friend” and “a true trailblazer” in the words of the speakers at her state funeral that lasted just over an hour.
President Kibaki led the mourners that included top government officials, diplomats, heads of international organisations, religious and business leaders to the funeral.
Prof Maathai’s body was later cremated on Saturday.
The love and respect the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner commanded in life was replayed in the tributes with the select band of speakers calling on Kenyans to carry on with the work she started.
“The best way we can honour her is to carry on the great work she started especially in the fields of environmental conservation, social justice, human rights and democracy,” President Kibaki said in his tribute.
The same line was echoed by other speakers.
They included Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, Norwegian Ambassador to Kenya Per Ludvig Magnus who spoke on behalf of the diplomatic corps, former UN-Habitat executive director Anna Tibaijuka and Director-General, United Nations Office at Nairobi Sahle-Work Zewde.
Dr Tibaijuka also represented Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete and Ms Zewde UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
The state funeral was held at Uhuru Park’s Freedom Corner, the very grounds Prof Maathai led mothers of political prisoners in a protest to demand the release of their sons.
It is also at the Freedom Corner that Prof Maathai had one of her bitterest battles with retired President Moi when she single-handedly fought off attempts to construct a 60-storey edifice by the Kenya times Media Trust (KTMT).
KTMT was associated with the former ruling party Kanu.
President Kibaki referred to Prof Maathai as a “national heroine” who did not shy away from speaking out on what was socially just and democratic.
“We recall, with gratitude, her active participation in the agitation for political reforms in the country and her exemplary performance as a Member of Parliament for Tetu Constituency and as assistant minister in my government in the ministry of Environment, Natural resources and Wildlife,” the President said.
The President said Prof Maathai had served the nation selflessly, with great courage and tenacity. Through her concern for the plight of rural women, she initiated environmental conservation programmes that eventually set in motion the birth of the Green Belt Movement.