Alexander St. Matthew-Daniel
Gone is the face we loved so dear,
Silent is the voice we loved to hear;Too far away for sight or speech, But not too far for thought to reach,Sweet to remember him who once was here, And who, though absent, is just as dear.
It falls to me as eldest son to fashion a remembrance of Bode St Matthew-Daniel’s – BDS (Birmingham) LDS RCS (London) – life. Twenty years gone by. Twenty years of missing our father, husband, brother, uncle.
I remember well his funeral. I remember well his clothes hanging in the wardrobe, life’s static still there. I remember him well now, on the occasion of 20 years since his passing. He is gone of course, that wrenching brutal parting, that shocks us all in our mortality – but, he is not forgotten.
He was a son of the soil, born on 2nd October 1940 in Lafiaji, Lagos. He was fiercely proud of his roots. “A river cannot forget its source;” a descendant of the Royal House of Gbadela in Owu Abeokuta on his mother’s side and a father who was a distinguished Lagos financier and property owner.
His early education was completed in Lagos. He then travelled to England, completing his secondary education and attending the faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Birmingham. It was hard graft but he prevailed, graduating with honours and further distinction in winning the Leith Newman prize for General Pathology and Bacteriology; the first African to have done so.
Licensed to practice dentistry in 1968, he quickly established two Practices. His compelling combination of skill and the “gift of the gab,” drove his reputation, endearing him to a broad and loyal following of patients from every race, creed and age, particularly children.
Beyond his Practices, he was notably elected as the secretary of the British Dental Association South Birmingham Central Counties, followed by the Central Counties Council in 1974 and the Walsall Family Practitioner Committee in 1975. He was a passionate professional also lecturing in Dentistry on his favourite topic, Orthodontics.
Although remarkably successful in England, he never forgot his African heritage. He was a driven idealist. He was always so hopeful and proud of his Nigeria, his people. Desperate to make a contribution, he set his focus on the agriculture sector; what better way to support the needs of a growing nation?
He established Bettafeeds Nigeria Ltd, producing high quality animal feed in Nigeria. Again his influence was felt beyond the company, notably being appointed as a Director of the Central Bank of Nigeria Agriculture Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund in 1985, Chairman of the Commercial Feedmillers Association in 1986, member of the Advisory Council on Export Risk at the Central Bank of Nigeria and President of the Nigerian – Netherlands Chamber of Commerce.
He was a hugely gregarious and charming man, a real character, a raconteur holding court wherever he went; a candle burning twice as bright; perennial life and soul of the party. You couldn’t go anywhere with him without people gathering. Famously, he was travelling in the Austrian Alps, when an entire village turned out to greet him. They had never seen a black man before.
Typically undaunted and best foot forward in self-taught German, he entertained the whole crowd for hours, leaving to huge cheers and roars of laughter. He had a love of the arts with membership of the Royal Shakespeare and Royal Operatic Societies. He was musically gifted himself and known for his singing voice, breaking into song whenever and wherever the occasion lent itself.
He was a connoisseur priding himself in both his wine cellar and his generosity in sharing it. He loved his clubs and was an active member at the Edgbaston Priory Squash and Rackets Club, his favourite haunt being Les Ambassadeurs Club in Mayfair London, where he savoured expanding his largesse.
Finally he was a good Christian, born again and often seen on the streets of Lagos giving alms.
Father, husband, brother, uncle, you may be gone sir but you are definitely not forgotten. “Sleep with one eye open.”
––St Matthew-Daniel is a retired major.