All the Board Members of Tai Solarin Organisation remember the great departure of our dear Mama Sheila with fond memory exactly one year ago today at the Babcock University Teaching Hospital, Ilishan-Remo, near her home town Ikenne-Remo in Ogun State of Nigeria.
The good that Sheila did lives after her in the minds of three medical doctors here and hundreds of beneficiaries of her uncommon humaneness.
‘My Mama, though not your biological son, you loved and cared for me as one,’ reminisced Dr. Matthew Ogayemi of Mayflower Clinic, Ijebu-Ode. ‘Which one do I talk about: my days at Mayflower School; King’s College, Lagos; University of Lagos and Medical School at University of Benin? How can I forget your role as a mother during my wedding and your efforts in making Mayflower Clinic, Ijebu-Ode, see the light of the day? I still have with me one of the letters you wrote to the then Commissioner for Health under the then Military Administrator of Ogun State, Colonel Daniel Akintonde, telling him: “Matthew is my son. My husband and I brought him up and encouraged him to set up his own private hospital with the name, Mayflower Clinic.” That was a time the then Commissioner for Health never wanted the clinic to see the light of the day for no just cause, despite the fact that Dr. Akinola, the then Director of Clinical Services and his team had personally inspected and recommended that the certificate be given. “The evil that men do lives with them.” Thank God, with the backing of the then Military Administrator of Ogun State, Colonel Akintonde, who invited me to his office in company of my wife, the certificate of Mayflower Clinic, Ijebu Ode, was hand-delivered to me at Ijebu-Ode by officials of the Ministry of Health.
‘Mama, I missed you and will continue to miss your motherly advice and encouragement. In my private moments, I still weep for missing you. However, considering what you have done for many in this world, I strongly believe you and Oga are in Heaven. Considering what Jesus said in Matthew 25:31-40, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
‘This space can never be enough for me to tell one percent of who you are to me. It is unfortunate that you will not be around to launch my almost completed book on you and Oga titled The Solarin I Know. Mama, enjoy yourself with Oga in Heaven till we meet to part no more.’
Similarly, in the words of the Medical Director of T & S Hospital in Lagos [T for Tai and S for Sheila], ‘Hers was a life not only dedicated to Nigeria but also totally donated to Africa. Like Jesus Christ died on the cross so that we may all live, Tai and Sheila often made themselves uncomfortable in order to make other people comfortable. When Dr. Tai Solarin died in 1994, Mama Sheila buried him within four hours! If Sheila had died before Dr. Tai Solarin, he would have buried her in less than two hours. After burying Tai, Sheila left the graveside and went to Ikenne to arrange for the staff salaries. Her conviction was that the living must continue to live. On the day Dr. Tai Solarin died and was buried, staff salaries were paid!
‘Tai and Sheila served the people and served God. They built houses for people, bought cars for people, provided for the clergies and did so much more for many others. But more than anything else, they sponsored many indigent and non-indigent students, home and abroad. As at when Sheila died on Sunday 21 October 2012, she had 34 students on her sponsorship list. In the years of crises in South Africa and Liberia, refugee students were sponsored by Tai and Sheila. Today, one of them is in government as a Minister in South Africa. While in Jos prison, Dr. Tai Solarin sponsored a warder to become a lawyer, a cook to become a teacher, and a typist to become an engineer.
‘During the Biafran war, several Igbo students were picked up by Tai at the war front, fed, clothed and sponsored through primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. Among them are two renowned medical specialists, one of them in a university teaching hospital in the U.S.A. Tai described one of them as “an egghead but a church rat" in his recommendation letter. How many times did Tai and Mama Sheila rescue accident victims on Ijebu-Ode – Ikorodu road, only Bros Ade can tell! How many hospital bills they settled? Neither Corin nor Tunde can tell. In the days of national crises, they did not maintain neutrality – they said their mind. They shared one heart and one love. They lived, served and died for humanity.
‘Like her husband, Sheila was straightforward, down-to-earth, hardworking, bold, courageous, cool-tempered, good-spirited and honest; and she was an embodiment of truth. She was a lover of students and mother of all.’
According to Dr. Tolani Oduwole of Alpha Clinic, Sagamu, ‘Madam was dear to us and supported our family and medical practice in very many ways. She supported our children as they schooled in Mayflower. She actually housed one of them when there was a pressure on accommodation in the students’ hostel. Our children had access to the school library all the year round.
‘Each time a fruit tree fell in Mayflower, we were the recipients of homemade marmalades if only we provided the jars. Madam provided us with ideas on hospital building and furniture. To her credit, our current site was built with bricks made from Mayflower. We got furniture from exquisite teak logs from Mayflower. Madam would send gardeners to put our garden right. Exotic plants were potted for us at Madam’s expense. A framed needlework adorns our waiting room, courtesy of her handiwork while she waited to be attended to in the banks and did not want her time idle!
‘Madam’s love for books and learning was legendary. She freely shared her books and thoughts. She was passionate about children’s education, the rights of women and the Nigerian state in general. Once she visited us and saw a burnt patient who could not afford the bill, Madam paid the bill in full.
‘Sheila loved nature and loved people. Once, at Easter, we drove to the Murtala Mohammed Gardens in Epe to see the gardens and park. She cared for the South African children who came to study in Nigeria. They were free to spend the holidays in her home and took very good care of them all. She found time to visit them in Johannesburg when they went back home.
‘We can only say she had played her part creditably well. We have been enriched by her life, we are grateful for her remembrance.’ We remember the immortal Sheila today and always for an excellent life well lived for humanity for 88 years, 4 months and 3 weeks. One year after her departure, Sheila lives on.