She is what you would call ‘ebony beauty;’ regal, resplendent, classy and convivial. An astonishing beauty and brain during her younger years – and at old age beauty fits her well like the ornate ring on her finger. Do you still remember her? Well, for those who grew up in the 60s, they would probably know Ms. Edna Park – she was Miss Nigeria in 1964. The title equally afforded her the opportunity to represent Nigeria at Miss World held in United States that same year. That was 52 years ago when she was barely 19. At 71, her beauty has not faded. Ms. Park left Nigeria 49 years ago for the United Kingdom, where she carved a niche for herself, first in the beauty therapy business, before working as a social care officer in elderly people’s home. Blessed with two accomplished children, Paul and Sheri Felix Ibru, Ms. Park was in Nigeria recently for the burial of the father of her children, the late Olorogun Felix Ibru. In this down-to-earth, expressive interview, Ms. Park speaks with Funke Olaode glowingly about the man who meant the world to her, about her past, her present beautiful life and a glorious future
At over 71 you still look elegant. What is the secret?
I have to look good because age is in the mind. I am still ‘in market’ you know. But seriously, I try to relax my head. I am also particular about things that I do. I sleep well, rest well and when I want to eat, I eat proper food. I think positively and I try to have a good life.
You have been around for some time now after living abroad for 49 years. Are you planning to relocate?
I have lived abroad for 49 years and it has really helped me and my approach to life as I have mixed with people who have had experiences in life. This has helped me to see life as very simple. I am a very jovial person, friendly and this has helped as well. I am not planning to relocate though. I come home often and the beauty of it is that I adjust very quickly when I am in Nigeria.
How would you say life has treated you in the last 71 years?
Life has been good to me. When I was much younger I was a rocker. I enjoyed life to its fullest. Although people had different views about me, from my experience through life, you don’t judge the book by its cover. I can be nice but people call me a troubleshooter because I can die for what I believe. I don’t care about what people say. The only person I am scared of is God. And one thing I have learnt is that you have to struggle hard to make it in life. I came from a polygamous home and I went into a polygamous home. These experiences actually taught me a lot of lessons to be able to correct my children. The experience has helped me to inculcate good values into my children and it has helped them in their endeavours. It is not by my power but the Almighty God and their late father, Olorogun Felix Ibru, who I hold in high esteem. Honestly every success I am today was made possible by this wonderful man.
How would you describe your childhood?
I come from a noble and strong home in Itsekiri, but I was brought up in Sapele by one of my aunties who always reminded me that ‘life is not as easy as I think; that I have to learn by working hard, reading my books, do a lot of things and have to be positive about what I do.’ All these helped me because when I am doing something right, I always believe I will get there no matter what it takes. I always encourage people to strive and work hard and believe in God.
If you could turn back the hand of the clock, were there things you would have done differently?
Not really; I didn’t regret anything. I have done a lot in my life for my age and this is why I am a bit quiet at the moment. But if you step on my toes I will rise up because I like to prove a point. And if you think I am quiet you can push me around I would not take it. I am a friendly person I wouldn’t allow myself to be pushed around by anyone. You know I have left Nigeria for a very long time and I have not done badly. I think I am proud of myself and my children. So, at my age, I don’t have any regret.
What was it like becoming Miss Nigeria in 1964/65? What benefit did that title give you or was it a burden?
I have been exposed from childhood. I am somebody who sees life in a different way. I think I am just blessed and my background really helped. I had a lot of civilised people in my household. I also lived in the midst of civilised cousins, aunties and uncles. I was brought up by the parents of the wife of the late Justice Kayode Eso, Mr. and Mrs. Agidi, because we are related. They were the first councillors they had in Warri, who went abroad in those days. So we were raised in a refined way. Mrs. Kayode Eso is a very beautiful and fashionable woman and she had a lot of influence on me. So becoming Miss Nigeria wasn’t a big deal. Again, right from childhood I loved fashion. I was around some good friends when the issue of Miss Nigeria beauty pageant came up and they encouraged me to go for it. A lot of us contested for it and I won it. This was in 1964. I represented Nigeria, at the Miss World in United States, the same year. I came back to Nigeria and began life. The pageant was beneficial because it made me to know a lot of important people; I was made an ambassador and I enjoyed all the perks that came with that office. I had a lot of suitors then but along the line I met Olorogun Felix Ibru, got pregnant and had a child. I left Nigeria for the United Kingdom in 1967.
What did you do after your reign as Miss Nigeria?
I had my early education in Warri, Delta State, after which I came to Lagos and enrolled at City College for my secondary education. After my reign I became a beautician. I went for training as a fashion designer and hair-dresser. I had a shop which was one of the best shops in England called, Sherina Hair Care. I ran it for eight years before I closed it down and went into fashion designing. I dabbled into so many things as a businesswoman. They wanted me back in Nigeria and I actually came back. But for one year I didn’t know what to do. So I went back to England where I was involved in social care of elderly people. Today, I am retired and a pensioner. They still call me once in a while because of my good job when I was in active service.
You have two children (a boy and a girl) for Olorogun Felix Ibru (now late). Why was that relationship not consummated into marriage?
We were never married but when my father died he went to pay my dowry (without the dowry he couldn’t participate in the burial). I had a lot of suitors back then. He was from my area and my mother liked him a lot. Again, my mother wanted me to settle down. Eventually he was the winner among all the suitors. We also had some things in common. As soon as I had my first child in 1968, he just took me out of the country. I had my second child in 1969. The arrangement was to settle down as husband and wife. By the time he started marrying women, I decided to stay on my own. Nobody wants her husband to go to other women. We were still good friends till he breathed his last.
What fond memories of him do have?
Olorogun Felix Ibru was a good man. He contributed greatly to my well-being. He did so much for me. Most of the things I have achieved today were made possible by Olorogun, after God. I remember his words in those days: ‘Edna, I am sending you abroad to learn. Face what I asked you to learn because nobody knows tomorrow.’ I learnt a lot from this great man. He was a good man to me and my children.
How well have you played the role motherhood towards your two children?
I am proud of my children for responding to training. My first child joined me in England at age 16. I taught him values about life and what life is about. He did all kinds of jobs (after school), which wasn’t due to lack of money but just to put him through life. He attended all the schools his father attended. He went to Nottingham University, Imperial College, Oxford University, and Cambridge and from there to Harvard. Today, he has a doctorate degree. He is a successful consultant. He is also a pastor. My daughter is a lawyer and works as a civil servant in England. Both of them are successful by the grace of God. I always tell my children not to believe in their father’s wealth but that they should work. They should believe that whatever their father bequeaths to them is a top-up. I remember the first salary my son, Paul earned, I asked him to take it to his father for blessing. And he did.
Was your participation in his burial a payback time for his good deeds?
I am so happy that during the burial of Olorogun Felix Ibru, God gave me the strength to be involved and I participated. During his 80th birthday I was with him and didn’t know it was going to be the last time I would see him alive. Yes, of course. He was the father of my two children and he was a good man. I remember when I lost my father he did so much. He was in Paris when my father died in 1989. As soon as I told him he prepared to pay my dowry because traditionally, if he didn’t pay the dowry he would not participate in the burial. He sent his family to pay the dowry before he was welcomed. And my son being the first, he had to bring salutation gun to the village before he could come in. He did a lot and my people were impressed. I did the same thing when he was buried. I brought Itsekiri Cultural Troupe for his burial to celebrate him. I was even going to do more but we were only given a limited space. I went to greet the Ovie of Agbara-Otor for receiving us with open arms.
After the burial, what is next?
Well, I learnt after the burial they are already talking about the will which I think is a bit disturbing. The way I see things, will is not important now. They should allow the man to settle (down in the grave) before bringing such matter to the table. I am not worried about any property because you came to this world with nothing and you go with nothing.
Generally, how do you relax?
I relax by pampering myself. I do my massage twice in a week. I do my pedicure and manicure; I fix my eyelashes three times in a week. I love jewelry and adorn my fingers with rings because it is my identity right from childhood.
If there were to be another world would you still live your life the same way?
Oh yes! I will live my life the same way and even add more because I love life. What are we living for? We die once. So I have no regret. I just pray nobody offends me when I going to heaven. I am a fighter and I don’t fight to lose but to win.
How religious are you?
I am very religious and it is not by going to church. Christianity is in the heart.
If you die today where do you think you will go?
I am not quite sure but I know I am going somewhere and I know I will come back (on the day of resurrection). But when I die, what I want is good music.