By Fynye Richard Ekwe Ekineh
Mummy, you would have been ninety five this year. Ninety five years, what a blessing of life, and we band of friends and family are here today to mourn you, but we are also here because we want to celebrate your long and wonderful life.
Almost a century ago and before she became my mother, Florence Cheakley was born in Manchester.
Her father was from Lancashire and her mother was from Yorkshire. What a combination, she was the youngest of three extraordinarily adventurous girls, Aunty Hedy and Aunty Gladys, known collectively in our family as “the Cheakleys”. Tough as nails, no nonsense ladies the salt of the earth, as they say up there and she was a true daughter of the north. She brook no nonsense, called a spade a spade and e by gum she spoke her mind.
Mummy I would like to celebrate a life that saw you traverse the world from the Lancashire moors to the rivers of Kalabari. From China to Andalusia, from Rome to Malasyia, soaking up cultures, art, history, food. I was dragged along in the wake of your unrelenting enthusiasm through endless museums, galleries, mountain monasteries and subterranean catercombs to explore the treasures of the world with which you imbibed and enriched me with your knowledge of histories, d cultures and art, I was only nine years old.! what could I possibly have done to do deserve this
Florence was a country girl, I don’t know if she could milk a cow but, I know she would not hesitate to try. She was probably a tomboy, when she was young, climbing trees and exploring the fields and forests around her, I know she was an athletic girl. She played hockey, netball, athletics and was an extremely good swimmer and she loved to dance and trained as a Ballet dancer. In time as the carefree years went by she grew into a beautiful young lady.
Pa Aliyi Ekineh,
A young lady with a hunger to explore the world, she became a nurse in the war. Florence Nightingale she had to become a nurse with that name!.
Florence’s real passion though was the Opera.
She lived for opera, she loved the opera, her second home was the opera house. She also loved football and she was a passionate Liverpool supporter. We once took her grandchildren to watch Arsenal versus Liverpool and totally surrounded by Arsenal fans she said out loud for everyone to hear “This stadium is rubbish, not half as good as Anfield”. We pretended she was not with us. She was like that, no nonsense! she called a spade a spade. Fearless. Even in the face of 20,000 grizzly bears. She could embarrass you with that lets call a spade a spade.
If the opera was her second home, then Wimbledon was her third home, Bjorn Borg her star player. Of the later players, she would say with total dismissal “they are all a load of rubbish, the lot of them.”
Never one to mince her words and when she was in battle axe mode she was a force of nature.
She loved to dance! which brought her as a young lady to the next adventure of her life, the fearless explorer. While she was working as a nurse in post war London, having survived the Blitz and looking after wounded soldiers in the war, where perhaps having seen such deprivation, she was steeled in the fearless spirit that emanated from her. She was a Florence Nightingale but welcome to that.
Annah Buseri presenting award to Pa Aliyi Ekineh
Her passion for music and dance led to an amazing twist that would dramatically change her life and destiny.
O fortuna, Semper crescis- O fortune, ever growing,!
The beautiful young Florence had a chance meeting with a charming young Kalabari student who invited her to the student dance at the London School of Economics LSE where they set the floor on fire, The marvellous African dance maestro meets the amazing ballet swan.
It was a match made in heaven and in a waltz they were swept off there feet!
In that dance, where a thousand words that brought into them, a passion whose flame still burns this very day, seventy plus years later! Let us celebrate that!
She had met her soul mate and husband of over a thousand years Aliyi sunjuye Ekineh, my good father! and they both loved to dance, they loved it so much they didn’t stop dancing for the next fifty years until the hips went and even then give them half a chance they would demonstrate there steps.
In fact they danced their way through life, and that bond that love of dance and music I beleive, held them together to this very day.
One of the many stories my mother told me only weeks ago was of her father. He asked her “Why couldn’t you find a nice Lancashire lad” and my mother replied “E dad! don’t you know about something called love” She laughed when she told me that story with a twinkle in her eye. She was happy, at that moment I saw her transformed into the young woman she had been, setting out in life. It was a beautiful moment for me. I felt the love she had, then and had now for my father.
And so with a typical sense of adventure that was her nature, she left this sceptered isle and boarded the ship with Aliyi, now a young barrister, to sail to Nigeria, a place once called the white mans grave. It was no match for a Cheakley girl. She was home and dry, and what did they do when they got there! They continued dancing in swinging 50’s and 60’s Lagos with its vibrant nightlife, beautiful beaches, a beautiful time and a beautiful place in their day. She adapted to Nigeria like a fish to water and then, we took her to Abonema, and in the Kalabari tradition, we bought her mouth, an experience ill never forget and I doubt she ever did.
She was blessed, she had a beautiful life. She worked hard as a nurse and still found time to do many other things. She was always occupied she grew beautiful gardens, but importantly she did the things she loved to do, she was very good at that.
She did the things that contented her, and so she was content, there is a lesson to us all in that.
She was both a humble and proud woman with no airs and graces, a regular trooper, no break no jam, keep on moving!
She lived a good life. A long life and we love her for the beautiful life she gave us by being our mother.
She was my hero too. She dived selflessly into the raging sea and saved my cherished Uncle Ladi from drowning in the surf and then brought him back to life when we thought he was gone. She delivered so many babies in the middle of the night, there are a lot of girls in Lagos named Florence after her.
She was a regular Florence nightingale. Her name may have been Florence but, she was no wilting flower and those who know her well know the force of nature that she was. In full flight, she was scary give her a battle axe and she would cut a swathe through the forest. and if you messed with us, huh, you would have to deal with mummy. sorry o! If I messed up, would I get it, I might have been her favourite son but she showed me no favours. I never heard you say a bad word about anyone.
Mummy, we always got immense love from you. you loved life, always looked at the bright side of life, you embraced whomever you met and you touched so many souls in this world, along your long and fruitful journey of life, who will never forget you.
Your cup was always full and you filled mine to the brim. We love you Florence may your spirit stay with us and guide us to wisdom.
We celebrate your life Florence Cheakley, we, your husband Aliyi, your children Sokari, Kariba and I, your grandchildren, nieces, nephews, family and good , good friends , whose lives we mutually enrich evoking our memories that have tied us in a bond that this very celebration of her life has reaffirmed. Together with St George, church where she came every Sunday to worship.
I thank you all .
You were a beautiful woman, with a beautiful soul , You were a perfect mother and we cherished you every day of your life for the love and guidance you gave us.
Mummy I love you. I was blessed with you for so long and now you have gone but your spirit will always be inside of me. God bless you my dear mother, may you rest in perfect peace
A mighty oak
A beautiful swan
A force of nature
I cannot miss you
I am you
You will always be with me
My blessed mother
You were my hero,
all my life