Sheila, wife of the late Dr. Tai Solarin
THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT THE MAYFLOWER COLLEGE, IKENNE, ESTABLISHED BY THE SOLARINS HAS PRODUCED EMINENT NIGERIANS TODAY. BUT WITH THE DEATH OF the FOUNDERS, ESPECIALLY SHEILA, LAST WEEK, SHERIFF BALOGUN LOOKS AT THE COLLEGE WITHOUT HER
It’s exactly a week today when Sheila, wife of the late Dr. Tai Solarin an English-born woman died at Babcock University Teaching Hospital, Sagamu, Ogun State. Sheila who was co-founder of the renowned Mayflower School, Ikenne with her late husband, Taiwo, left behind two children, Corin and Tunde. In the history of education in Nigeria, the Solarins have contributed immensely to its development.
In recognition of their efforts toward ensuring that more people have formal education, the Solarins received several awards both locally and internationally.
Sheila, who died at the age of 83, was knighted and awarded the Member of British Empire (MBE) in 2007 by Queen Elizabeth. Although, Mama as she is fondly called, left behind two biological children, but she trained and sponsored several children throughout the country.
All throughout Mama’s life, she was also said to have demonstrated immeasurable love to everybody regardless of race or tribe. She was said to have taken keen interest in female education, which she ensured that no girl is uneducated.
Born in England in 1924, Sheila Mary Solarin, nee Tuer, had her early education in England and obtained her Higher School Certificate in 1941. In 1951, she graduated from Manchester University with a degree in English before proceeding to Ontario Institute of Education, Toronto, Canada for her master’s degree in Education in 1975. Based on her love for impacting knowledge, she joined her husband, the late Tai Solarin, who she met in the early fifties, to work at Molusi College, Ijebu Igbo in 1952. In 1956, the couple founded Mayflower School in Ikenne, Ogun State.
One of Mama’s products who is also a teacher in the school, Mrs. Florence Leshi, while describing her days with Mrs. Solarin, said Mama was a mother to the core. She said during her time, you couldn’t believe a European woman can show such compassion or do what she did to Nigerian children.
According to her, she was a very loving, caring! When you’re with her, you won’t feel like going home because of the joy you receive from her. You can imagine during our time, we spent our holidays here.
Mrs. Leshi who was at Mayflower School between 1971 and 1975, added: “In terms of food, she gave us everything. If one needs money, all the person needs to do is just to walk up to her, she will give you the money and collect it back from your parents at the end of the term. She was a woman of humility, something other women should emulate. She is a real Nigerian woman born in Europe.”
Another old student of the school, Tunde Salau, an engineer, said they composed a song for her, saying she was one in a million. According to him: Sheila obinrin ogun Sheila obinrin rere, Omo to bi ju egberun loo malekawontan mama ko yi to. Sha ma ko wa ni sho oo a o shey omo fun e, Doctors lo bi joor, Engineers lo bi joor, Accountants lo bi joor. Mama ko yi to, sha ma kowa ni sho o a o shey omo fun e.
He said: “What more can I say about Mama. Is it my silent hour days, morning drill, evening assembly, the Saturday inspection or should I just talk about her life with her dogs. She’s a rare gem. I was with her from 1993-1997.”
He added: “A rare gem is gone! She was a mother of mothers! I was admitted into mayflower as a young boy of just 10 plus. But I left the school as a ‘’great man’’ even though I was a teenager of close to 16, courtesy Sheila and Tai. Whatever I am today, is by God’s grace and Mayflower.” Meanwhile, Solarin, who taught English for 50 years, was once quoted as saying, “We didn’t ask anybody what their ethnic background or religion was, we simply wanted to provide an education for all the children in the area.”
Her daughter, Corin said that the vacuum left by her mother cannot be filled, saying “I cannot, in 1,000 years, be like my father or my mother, but I will try my best to be myself. I will also want other Mayflowerists who are scattered all around Europe, America, Africa and other continents to come around so that we don’t allow these legacies to die.
“Also, I want them to always keep the spirit of hardwork, which my parents impacted in them to be their watchword as every one of them is a potential leader. I cannot be like them, but will strive to sustain their legacies and want others to join hands with us,” she said.
On what would be remembered of her, according to another Ex-may, Mrs. Oyin Idowu, a banker, said she was an educationist to the core, saying her spoken English was indeed exceptional. “She would come to class to teach all the pupils handwriting herself. She also cared about the dispensary and kitchen, ensuring a 100 per cent hygienic atmosphere on daily basis. She was a caring mother/philanthropist who adopted many abandoned babies and gave them uncompromised education and health support.
“She even took one of the adopted babies to Canada for medicals. Unlike her husband, Tai, she detested beating with canes and capital punishments as means of correcting erring students. She will rather suggest light punishment. Her influence had no boundaries,” she emphasised.
Evangelist Ola Olanrewaju, Principal, Mayflower College, handling the private section of the school, said the section has a large number of Hausa people working with her, saying virtually everyone of them can now speak good English, they can also read and write, not only the parents, but their kids.
He said Mama Sheila put them in school free of charge. “She doesn’t want anybody to suffer as long as the person is by her side. If you do anything wrong and the moment you had apologised she was ready to forgive you. She was a straightforward woman; she would not allow anyone dubious come around her within her. She was very meticulous.”
He said: “Mama cannot be described by words. Sometime ago, she won two million naira on ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ game show and donated the entire money to the school science laboratory for the management to equip the lab.
“When the state government was having problem in returning the school to her, she was not happy about it and because of her anxiety to provide first class education, she applied for the approval of the private school which she now runs till death.
And the result of the first set was 97.8 per cent, which is highly impressive. Even while on her sick bed, she was looking up to higher performance, all she was asking me was “Have you done the analysis” and when she saw it, she said “Halleluiah” which means her labour was never in vain.”
On her dislikes, he said Mama Sheila doesn’t like excessive spending, laziness, dishonesty, adding that she was very prudent in her spending. He added that there is going to be a big vacuum because Mama’s contribution was incomparable. Apart from teaching students English Language and also assisting some in handwriting, she also taught adults same subjects.
While still speaking on the vacuum created by the demise of Sheila, he said: “I don’t think anyone can fill the vacuum, it’s a great loss not only to Mayflower School, but Nigeria. She is not a type of woman, you can get substitute for immediately.”
Also, Mr. David Okunnuga, Principal of the public section of the school described Mama as an embodiment of humility, saying she left the country, which she was born and came to settle down in Nigeria. According to him, she left a country flowing with milk and honey to come to suffer in this rural community. She stood by her husband, Tai Solarin; she was the pillar behind Tai Solarin. She was managing the school when Tai Solarin was doing the administrative job.
However, during the incarceration of the husband, Tai, Okunnuga said Mama was still on ground working assiduously.
He added that she single-handedly gave scholarship awards to students up to university level. “Mama is a rare gem,” he said. While on hospital bed, she was still asking questions on students, information about the school, asking about transfer of teachers and school in general, which denotes she has the interest of education at heart.
He said Mama left beautiful legacy behind, as she was truthful, humble, honest, not flamboyant, easy going with good humanitarian skill. “A lot of people got educated through her. An example is one of my staff here. Madam Sheila stood as surety for him to procure loan to sponsor his child to the university. Mama asked the cooperative to hold her responsible if the man eventually did not repay. There are various examples.”
Meanwhile, the Solarin family has released the burial arrangements of Sheila. Her remains would arrive Ikenne-Remo, Ogun State on November 8, from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH). This would be followed by a motorcade procession to Ikenne Town Hall and later to Mayflower School, which she co-founded with her late husband.
There will be lying-in-state of her body at Schmid Hall, Mayflower School, to be followed by tributes from Ex-Mays, while students of the school will pay their last respects at the Mayflower Junior Sports Field. The wake-keep will be co-ordinated by the Methodist Church, which takes place at the same venue by 4.pm.
Interdenominational service holds on Friday November 9, by 11.00am to be followed by a private interment by the family.