Sylva Ashimole pays tribute to his father Thomas Adibe Ashimole, accountant-poet, who passed away aged 85 years
It is a testament to the high quality of Nigeria’s liberal-arts education in the 1920s to ‘60s, that mere completion of Standard Six Certificate (equivalent of today’s Senior Secondary School Certificate) gave the men and women well-grounded in training and social etiquette, that even if they didn’t progress beyond this stage to higher or university education, they still held their heads high and were good authors, administrators, businessmen, teachers, diplomats, soldiers, etc. Many of our leaders in the First Republic fell into this category. My recently departed father, Nnayikwu (Ezinna) Thomas Adibe Ashimole, Jerusalem Pilgrim, counted among them too, although he would later advance to study Accountancy, essentially through home studies or correspondence, just as many of such leaders equally went on to study Medicine, Law, Classics/ Philosophy, Public Administration, Engineering, etc. Their hunger for education was simply unquenchable.
My father and his generation also appear to have seen education more from a “golden fleece” perspective, to be deployed for the upliftment of society. It was from my father that I first heard the words “your work is a form of service to God and humanity, therefore take it seriously and know you’re accountable to God Almighty for success or failure of it,” words which rang familiar when in later years I came into contact with a famous prelature in the Catholic Church called Opus Dei, which preach similar ideals of holiness in work. My Dad wholly believed that you need education and passion to do your work with excellence, and that God is a rewarder of diligence and virtuous service. Sadly, the generation today tends to view everything from the standpoint of a survivalist “meal ticket.”
Dad was born on 21 January 1934 at Umuene, in the present airport town of Obiangwu, Imo State. He was baptized in 1938 and his parents then enrolled him at St. Mary’s Elementary School Obiangwu. Confirmed in 1946, Dad later got admitted to St. Patrick’s College Calabar (SPC) but could not proceed because his father had died and being an only son, out of eight daughters, his widowed mum desperately wanted him to stay around her. It took the sheer guts of Dad’s eldest sister, late Mama Adaure Juliana Achilefu, nee Ashimole, to drag Dad away from their mum in 1953 to Yaba, Lagos, where Mama Adaure and her husband late Chief Ben Achilefu were residing. From thence, Dad went on to educate himself further through London correspondence studies.
Recipient of Papal Honor from His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Dad is widely travelled, including France and Holy Pilgrimages to Israel and Egypt in 2006, where he climbed Mount Sinai at age 72! He had six strong influences on his life, the first being his Christian faith. Dad believed with God “all things are possible.” He was a prayer warrior who could pray for several hours, even in his old age. The second influence was his eldest sister, late Mama Adaure, who as Wole Soyinka would say, taught him to “set forth at dawn,” to take his own destiny into his hands from an early age. The third influence or mentor was the late Morris Anyanwu, of Umuaga Nguru, Ngor-Okpala LGA, Imo State, my Dad’s first boss at his first-ever place of work in Lagos, the Lagos Arms (now Airport) Hotel Ikeja. My Dad was so impressed by the humane and genuinely respectful way that the late Morris treated him, that they became friends for life, a lesson on inter-personal relations. The fourth and fifth influences, relatedly, were Dad’s two friends cum co-employers, late Honorable Chief Justice Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, “Baba” as my father fondly called him, and late Surgeon-General Dr. Norman Williams, whose quiet dignity and professionalism rubbed-off positively not only on Dad but on me as well, as Dad often took me to visit them in their respective homes at Jibowu and Victoria Island. The two great gentlemen were directors of Metropolitan Travel Services, the company where Dad worked as Chief Accountant prior to retirement in 1993. The sixth influence was, of course, my mother, with whom he sojourned on this planet, through thick and thin, for nearly 60 years.
I mourn my Dad, though he died at age 85 years. I mourn him dearly. I wish he had lived longer. I do not rejoice because he “lived up to 85” as some friends are urging me to do. I do not celebrate. In my culture we do not celebrate death, no matter at what age. We are however consoled by the fact that there is life for believers after death, a more glorious one.
My father, himself an author of two books, loved literary works and often quoted John Ploughman, amongst others: “If my little wood could heat my little oven, why do I crave for more, when all the wood in the forest are not meant for me alone?” My father also often quoted Shakespeare: “The world is a stage, and men and women mere actors. I will strive very hard to make my character prove a gentleman of me, so that at the end the world might turn up and say, ‘This has been a Man!’
My father’s constant quoting of John Ploughman witty sayings led me to investigating who this fellow was, or is. I found out that John Ploughman was pen-name of an English Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in the late eighteenth century. Spurgeon sermonized on Christian values and on spartan, contented living. Dad also modeled his life along the pathway of his hero, John Ploughman. A life of contentment and service to God and others, he believed, was the only life truly worth living.
Dad is survived by his widow my mum Ezinne Theresa Nnoruo, seven children, 20 grandchildren, two sisters, several cousins, nephews and nieces. Adieu, Tom Ashimole, the Great One! May the Lord God Almighty, whom you faithfully served, bring you into His everlasting bliss. Amen
Dr Ashimole wrote from Lagos