Celebrating the Memory of an Exceptional Matriarch

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Late Lady (Mrs.) Philomena Chiebonam Umeh

Mary Nnah

Although late Lady (Mrs.) Philomena Chiebonam Umeh has long been laid to rest with a funeral service held in her honour at the St. Michael’s the Archangel Church, Eziaja, Neni, Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State, her memory still lingers on in the minds of her loved ones.

Late Umeh who was described as a loving mother, good Christin and a philanthropist no doubt touched many lives as evidenced by the testimonies by family, the church and fiends.

Most Rev. (Dr) Peter Okpalaeke, Catholic Bishop Emeritus, Ahiara diocese during the funeral service stressed the need for those she left behind to follow her footsteps.

“We urge the family to take consolations in the words our Lord Jesus that whoever lives and dies in Him shall rise again. So with that, we continue to pray for Philomena in anticipation that on the last day, we all shall meet in the heavily kingdom.

Although Umeh died at the ripe age of 81, her distraught family members expressed grief at her death, saying that her passing is a huge lost. Both the young and old family members said mama was their confidant and strength.

Her eldest son, Chief Fidelis Umeh said, “Her charitable deeds were out of this world. During the war, she was specially recruited because of her charitable gesture to run the Red Cross centre.”

For late Lady Umeh’s eldest daughter, Dr. Mrs. Lilian Adaobi Obi (nee Umeh), her late mother’s generosity still amazes her. “She really loved to give things to people and children always flood to her. She was always giving out gifts; always buys stuffs and giving out to people. So, she was a very generous women”, Obi noted.

Speaking further about her late mom she said, “Mama was a mother to many people. She took her role as a mother very seriously and mothered anybody that crossed her path. I think she was sent to this earth to be a mom. She was so good at it; I can only aspire to be at least close to being a good mother as she was. She raised all her children to be productive members of the society. I can go on all day just talking about mom but I will summarise in a few words and say that mom set very good examples of how to be a mother.

“She taught me to always appreciate people and whatever they do for me, never to take anything for granted, always to write a thank you note, to always clean up and never to look shabby but present your best self to the world because whether you like it or not people will judge when they see you. Mom taught me to be kind and compassionate to people as we are all part of God no matter your position in life, people always ask me what religion I belong to after they deal with me, I don’t think is a religion thing, it is upbringing and mom constantly talking and correcting in my mind.

“I can hear her even more now that she is gone and the mommy look – when she gives you the eye you know immediately what to do, she did not need to say a word. Most importantly, mom taught me to be a loving and devoted wife. I learned from how she cared for my dad. When dad passed I was happy mom did not go first because she had it down how to take care of her man, she was my rock. I will miss you mom but you will forever live in my heart and mind. God be with you till we meet again.”

For her son, Chief Philip Ndubuisi Umeh, a renowned lawyer, late Lady Umeh was an exceptional mother. “She cared to the last detail about our welfare, health, spiritual lives and indeed anything that is worth caring for.”

Philip stated further that his late mother was an epitome of what excellent motherhood and parenthood represent. “Words may not be sufficient to express in full, the glorious and fruitful life of Lady Umeh. However, I will adopt and rely on many positive remarks and testimonies of people who interfaced with her to corroborate my feelings that my mother indeed lived a good life worthy of emulation. I am confident to acknowledge that she was happily married to my late father, Ichie (Sir) Fred Okoye Umeh -Ksji and both of them actually complimented and supplemented each other as it to be in any good Christian marriage.”

“The result was that they raised together a happy and progressive family of six children, several grandchildren and great grandchildren to the glory of God. It is to the credit of my mother, that upon the death of Ichie Sir F.O. Umeh, she ably continued to lead our nuclear and extended families along those well cherished traditions and values of peace and progress. She kept the families intact and indeed extended the frontiers of family bonds and togetherness, which put together have consolidated on achievements of yesteryears in all directions”, Philip noted.

Pledging to uphold the legacy that his parents left behind he said further, “I remain particularly grateful and on my part assure and declare that we shall continue to carry the banner handed over to us without stain. Her death no doubt, marks the end of an era; it is not lost on us that we are now orphans just like many, but I am not afraid because our parents have prepared us well and square for the next level. I think, it began with our parents having enough time to stay and interact with us and God in His infinite wisdom and knowledge granted them long lives to accomplish the nurturing, trainings and exposures of their children and wards.”

“Looking back, I realise that it was deliberate, that my mother, Lady P.C. Umeh, operated all her businesses and dealings either from our family house or premises close to the family house to afford her sufficient and quality time to take care of us. It was indeed a lot of sacrifice and I dare say with all humility that it worked. Mom, I am very grateful!”

Philip recalled that her mother mentored several people, particularly younger women, in many positive ways that today, they remain eternally grateful.

“She had great interest in helping people, particularly the poor and needy and those that came across her, no doubt benefitted immensely from her generosity and kindness. My mother loved children and will spare no efforts to make them happy and responsible. This was what inspired her to set up the Chinwe Day-care and Nursery School at Enugu. The school has produced many good children, who have over time found themselves in important positions in Nigeria today. She served the church in many ways as Church Warden for several years at St. Patrick,s Catholic Church , Ogbette Enugu and together with my late father, contributed immensely to the building of many Catholic Churches in Enugu and Neni Town as well as in the training and sustenance of many Priests.”

“In all, I make bold to say that God blessed me and allowed mother to die peacefully at the hospital in Enugu in the hands of her loved ones. I pray God to bless her Soul and grant her eternal repose in Heaven, Amen”, Philip Umeh said.

Her grandson, Munachi Umeh said, “If you have any sickness, any problem or if there is anything wrong with you, she always had the medicine, tuition and solution to it. She was always giving us advice and emotional support.”

Her son in-law, Adolphus Akaniru (Chinyelugo Okija), wrote, “Odoziaku was a beautiful lady outwardly and inwardly. She is approachable, warm and compassionate. Everybody that knows her feels like she is their best friend and that is just her charm. As her favourite son-in law, I am truly blessed to know her. I still remember the first Oha soup she cooked for me and continues to cook each time I see her and made sure I got my favourite “anara”(eggplant) whenever I visited even when her husband, my father in-law passed, she still got “anara” for me.

“What impresses me most is her selfless attention to people around her. I remember taking her to shop during one of her visits to USA, she spent most of the time picking items for mama this and papa that. When I asked her when she was going to pick something for herself, she said “once you get for all these people, I am happy and satisfied”. That is my mother in law! She cares, loves and pays attention to people she meets. I will miss her.”

Friends of the family also expressed their sympathy during the burial ceremony.

Mrs. Uche Ekeunife, Senator Anambra Central, said, “Mama was a very kind-hearted woman, a woman that invested heavily in the upliftment and growth of our community, Neni.”

A family friend, Uzoewulu Mgbemena recalled that in the 70s/80s she nurtured and disciplined as many young people that came in contact with her. “She nurtured us, she disciplined us and told us that reckless living is not the way to go. She was a very generous and peaceful woman.”

Chimezie Victor Ihekweazu of Chimezie Chambers expressed that mama was an exceptional woman and did her best to show love to her family and all those close to her during her lifetime.

“She was not only a caring mother and wife but showed so much love for God and all who came close to her in her lifetime. Though she attended a ripe age and lived a fulfilled life, the vacuum which her passing has created, cannot be filled by any person”, he added

Born August 25th, 1938 to the family of late Chief M.C.Obiora of Umunri Village, Neni Town, late Lady Umeh, who died on April 17, 2019, was a good Christian and practised her faith through her membership of a few Church Societies. In particular, she was a founding member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of St. John International, Enugu Commandery.

She was married to Ichie (Sir) Fred Okoye Umeh of Eziaja Village, Neni Town, Anambra State. The marriage was blessed with six children, all of whom have done well as professionals in their own rights. In her life time, Lady Umeh was a loving wife, dutiful mother, grandmother and great grandmother. She lived a very active lifestyle, which impacted positively on all those she interacted with. She was a great community and religious leader, who left indelible legacies on the sands of time.

She was buried on Saturday June 1, 2019 at the family compound of late Ichie (Sir) F.O. Umeh (Ezechinyelude) of Amakwa, Eziaja Village, Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State.

Lady Umeh will be remembered by all and sundry for her kindness, humility and support for the poor and needy members of the society. Her death is a big loss to her family, friends and numerous dependants. She was a pious Christian and Noble member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of St. John International, of the Catholic Church in Nigeria.

Late Umeh was elevated to the status of a Noble Lady as a mark of an accomplished member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of St. John International Enugu and the Catholic Church. She was also an active member of the women guild who was fully in charge of her interment.

She has travelled widely both within Nigeria and abroad on holidays, religious conferences and medical vacations. As wife of a High Chief she was then, she was a ‘Lolo’ in her own and popularly also known and called Odoziaku in the Neni traditional settings. As a person, she was very hardworking, decent and humble. She was well exposed even from childhood given her pedigree as a daughter of the late Chief M.C. Obiora, who was effortlessly among the wealthiest Igbomen of his time.