By Tony Okoroji
Today, I write Saturday Breakfast from New York City. I got here three days ago, making much of the trip from Lagos on wheelchairs.
Many had expressed fears whether I will be in enough good health to make it to New York. It is true that I was driven straight from my hospital bed in Lagos to the airport. I am a man who drives on a full tank of faith. I am very grateful to my doctor and friend, Dr. Moses Jatto, his wife, Josephine, and his angels at Care Life Hospital, Lagos with whom I have spent most of December, January and February. They did everything to make sure I could travel. By the grace of the Almighty, I am here.
I am here with a concise report from Dr Jatto to the medical experts in the US so that they can get me back fully on my feet. I am also here to superintend over the grand celebration of the 80th birthday of a Nigerian teacher, author, journalist, unstoppable intellectual, creative personality and retired professor of English, the amazing Lolo Dorothy Chinaka Akujuo.
In the Okoroji family, we have always called her ‘Miss’. ‘Miss’ because she has always had this elegance about her – speech, dressing, personal carriage and values. I do not know if there is any one without any blemish. ‘Miss’ is probably the nearest thing to such perfection that I know.
‘Miss’ is my elder sister after whom I have tried to model my values and failed several times. She was my teacher in much of my primary school days (no hyperbole). Oh! She taught me that you do not have to raise your voice to be heard loudly. She remains my mother in more ways than one and mother to everyone in the family and everyone else she can find. Even before Pauline, our eldest sister, passed on, three years ago, ‘Miss’ was our mother.
She is the one who would make sure that everyone goes to school, everyone gets a good wife and everyone gets a good life. ‘Miss’ is about 15 years older than me but when I am in New York, she is my chauffer, my cook, my chaperon, my medical coordinator, my everything! And she does it all with a smile. When I got married in Lagos to my wife, Queen Mary, ‘Miss’ was the coordinator. When my son, TJ, got married in New York, two years ago to his darling Andrea, ‘Miss’ was the coordinator.
For years, her home has been the family bus stop through which everybody passes, no matter where they end up. When anyone, young or old, dies in the village, it is “Miss” that will summon everybody, pull together resources and make sure the person gets a decent burial. I am not sure that I know anyone to whom service to others is such mantra and an article of faith. I am not sure that I know what life would have been without ‘Miss’.
For quite a while, ‘Miss’ was a professor of English in the United States and helped shape the future of thousands of young people until she retired from the New York City Department of Education and City University of New York. She has however not lost her Nigerian roots which form the background to her book, Tortoise Tales which is being turned into an animated movie and her great story, My Birth right which Nollywood has rolled out as an epic feature film.
When in 2022, over breakfast of my favourite “international omelettes” cooked for me by her, in her home in New York, she reminded me that she would be 80 years old this first quarter of 2023, I screamed. ‘Miss’ to be 80? How? ‘Miss’ does not grow old! My sister is now a grandmother but does not look any bit like it. The elegance remains and not one pound of flesh in a wrong place. She is your true evergreen.
The day she spoke to me about the upcoming 80th birthday, I took a decision to rally friends and family and set one day aside to specially celebrate this incredible lady who appears to have limitless capacity to make everyone’s problem hers, celebrate everyone and always wear a smile while toiling for others.
That decision nearly got me into trouble. Unknown to me, her four beautiful children were planning a surprise birthday bash to celebrate their mother at 80. My decision to openly invite as many of the people she has touched as we can, burst the bubble!
I am probably the happiest man in the world as I welcome everyone today to the Grand Celebration of the 80th Birthday of the evergreen lady, the quintessential workaholic, teacher, author, journalist, great servant of the Almighty, unstoppable intellectual, incredibly talented creative personality, a good housewife and mother, the amazing Lolo Dorothy Akujuo who everybody calls “Miss” and who is so special to me, I call her “Missim” or ‘’Miss Nkem’’ (my Miss).