James Adewale Olawole – A Tribute

by Femi Olawole

It was 1939. And the location was the General Hospital, Odan (Lagos). A young man of 29 years, just recuperating from a long, debilitating illness, sat opposite a doctor’s desk for a second-opinion-appraisal of the results of his physical examination.

“Young man.” The middle-aged British doctor began solemnly. “I’m sorry to have to give you some bad news.”

In an initial reaction, the patient stiffened. But he soon shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly as he wondered why anything would be worse than his travails in the past few months.

“You’re only 29 years old.” The doctor continued in a somber voice. “But going by the results of tests on your vital organs, you’ll barely attain the age of 40 in life.”

“Uhm!” The young patient sighed deeply. “So, the other doctor was right after all?”

“I’m afraid so.” The doctor nodded sympathetically. “Most of your body’s vital organs are in very bad shape. Your heart is in shambles…..so, is the liver. Your lung is almost gone…..and it’s only a matter of time before your kidneys pack up…..”

“Okay……” The patient interrupted as he began to rise from the chair. “Well…..what do I say? May God’s will be done!”

The young man in the above story was my father, James Adewale Olawole. He passed away peacefully a few days ago at the ripe age of 94 years!

Usually, when someone attains the age of about 80 years, some people (the cheeky ones) are in the habit of teasing that the person is doing “overtime” in life. In the case of my father, such people would probably say he commenced his “overtime” from the age of 29 years! It would not matter to them that only the grace of God Almighty could enable an individual to live up to a ripe old age without any of the many medical problems that often plagued the lives of younger people.

The life of papa was a great, logic-defying lesson in fortitude and perseverance. His was an incomplete life that became whole through a gradual assemblage of daily miracles. This is so because the most common life accomplishments, often taken for granted by many other people, were considered as natural privileges in the turbulent life of this man.

Unlike the norm in those days, James’ marriage did not produce a child for many years. But as usual, the man accepted this travail as just another twist in his life. And in spite of the pressures from his family and friends, he neither agreed to marry another wife nor fell into the temptation of having a mistress.

As a mere mortal however, he was embroiled in a deep psychological anguish that trailed the long absence of a child in his marriage. For someone who already had a “death sentence” hanging over his head, he was so deeply disturbed that his psyche soon became emotionally obsessed with the sight of every pregnant woman.

It was cool in those pre-independent days of Lagos for a man to own a bicycle. James was riding his home from work one day when tragedy struck. He had just descended from the old Carter Bridge at Iddo, en route his Herbert Macauly home when he saw a heavily pregnant woman walking on the side walk. Staring as usual, at what he always considered as a miraculous phenomenon, the man ran head-long into an oncoming car.

Fortunately, he did not sustain life threatening injuries…..although; a crowd had since formed around him, thinking he had died. That was until he slowly sat up, shaking his head in self pity.

“This is a miracle!” The owner of the car muttered in gratitude to God. “But mister, what could have been so interesting as to distract your attention so much?”

James shook his head again with a sardonic smile, looked up at the other man and answered that he had been looking at a pregnant woman.

“That’s it?” The car owner was stunned. “The mere sight of a pregnant woman caused this accident?”

“You don’t understand.” James remarked as he finally got up slowly with the help of the doctor. He now went on with a brief narration of the ordeal in his childless marriage. It was at this moment that the other man introduced himself. He was a Senior Gynecologist in the General Hospital, Lagos.

“Please.” The doctor pleaded as he wrote down his address. “I want you and your wife to see me at Odan as soon as possible…..”

And to cut a long story short, both husband and wife visited the hospital and had some tests. Based on the test results, the doctor informed both of them that nothing was wrong with their reproductive organs. Rather, the doctor concluded that Mother Nature was only playing one of its little but expensive jokes on them. And the prescribed remedy? Patience!

As fate would have it, Sarah Olawole got pregnant the following month. Incidentally, this was only an example of the numerous miracles that characterized the life of this man to whom nothing good came easy.

In the field of education, James barely completed the elementary “Standard” 3. Yet, he was well-known for his almost flawless spoken and written “Gesi” (Yoruba word for Queen’s English). We, his children, grew up to note the man’s three closest companions (apart from his wife). These were The Holy Bible, a dictionary and Daily Times (which was then the only newspaper in the country). There were times when the man would be so greatly engrossed in the newspaper that one would think he was preparing for some Cambridge exams. Painstakingly, he had simultaneously tutored himself to acquire a very impressive command of the English grammar and expanded his intellectual horizon.

As his children, we also grew up to learn and imbibe certain social traits from him. Our tastes in music, especially Jazz, Blues, Soul and Classical on the one hand, and Juju, Apala, Sakara and Highlife, on the other hand could easily be attributed to Papa’s penchant for bombarding our consciousness with these genres of music on daily basis.

Apparently in view of his life’s many travails and triumphs, Papa believed a lot in destiny. To him, Destiny, with its operational assistant, Fate is part of God’s natural laws that are used in guiding the lives of individuals on their ethereal journeys. I will never forget his reaction when I muted the idea of going to the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA). In those days, most people in the South-west would sneer at any young man who chose to embark on a military career when his mates were aspiring to be doctors, lawyers etc.

Naturally therefore, my mother thought I was out of my mind. But to my surprise, while his wife was raging like a tempest, my father was all tranquility. His comments were very simple and straight to the point. “Femi, everyone has a distinct destiny which no other creature can change. Whatever you decide will definitely be in line with your life’s chosen path. And who am I to go against the will of God?” Case closed!

And lest I forget! Papa’s religious principles were something else. For someone who was fond of reading a lot of “strange” books that he called Holy Scriptures, this did not really come as a surprise. It was my father who, indirectly though, shaped my religious philosophy. “To every race, God gave a Messiah,” he would say with absolute confidence. “To the Jews, He gave Jesus the Christ. He gave the Arabs, Mohammed. The Indians, Buddha (who was also said to have come through a virgin birth). The Chinese had Confucius. And the same could be said of the various races in Africa.”

“God, in his perfection, raised a Messiah from among every race, to speak the language and blend with the cultural traits of the people. Therefore, if any group of people must cross the boundary of their race to embrace the Messiah of another race, they must be prepared to do so with enormous wisdom and patience.”

As far as my father was concerned, globalization did not start with business ventures. It did with religions. His thinking therefore was that if people, across the world, could tolerate mere business ventures of different natures, origins and tastes without any acrimony, why couldn’t they do the same with the different religions?

May God Almighty repose his soul as he progresses in the peaceful transition into glory.

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