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Dame Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu – Mixed & Truly Blessed

By Published January 23, 2017

Her Nigerian father and Irish mother met as students at Cambridge University in 1947 at a time of racial inequality, being black and Irish meant the odds were stacked against baby Elizabeth, so much so she was given up for adoption at birth.

That ‘odd’ union inspired the title of Professor Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu’s memoir ‘Mixed blessing from Cambridge union’ which has enjoyed raving reviews since its release in september 2016, The year was capped with the outstanding Nurse making the 2017 honours list of her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

Emeritus Professor of Nursing, University of West London, Dame Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu is a national nursing pioneer in every respect: - 


                                                                                                     Staff Nurse 1968

She ran the first UK nurse-led sickle/thalassaemia screening and genetic counselling service.

She is a Patron of the Nigerian Nurses Charitable Association and of the Sickle Cell Society.

A senior lecturer in Community Genetic Counselling at the Institute of Child Health, University College London, and the Dean of the School of Adult Nursing Studies.

Vice-President of Unite/Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association (CPHVA).

Honorary Advisor to the Chief Nursing Officer’s Black & Minority Ethnic Advisory Group.

Inducted into the Nursing Times Nursing Hall of Fame for services to the Development of Nurse-led Services (2010).

Professor Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu DBE is indeed a game changer, enjoy her brief lively encounter with our editor Ladi Taiwo. Excerpts:

How do you feel about the Queen’s honour?

I feel honoured, I feel appreciated and valued. I feel that my effort has been recognised, first a CBE in 2001 for services to nursing and now Dames Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to nursing and the Mary Seacole Statue Appeal.

Which gave you the most buzz?

I would say I feel honoured in equal measure with both really, with the CBE I felt that the contribution of a Black ethnic minority nurse is finally being recognised and acknowledged, the DBE took it a step further, in addition to being recognised for services to Nursing, my contribution to bringing honour and recognition, albeit posthumously, to a Nurse whose contributions at a dire period in the history of this nation was almost airbrushed out of history. The work to give Mary Seacole her rightful place in the history of Great Britain started in November, 2003 culminating with her statue being unveiled in the grounds of London’s St Thomas’ Hospital in June 2016. I have also been made a Life Patron of the Mary Seacole Trust. Another thing that will make the DBE remarkable is my 9-year-old granddaughter who cannot wait to accompany me to the formal ceremony at the palace where I will receive the honours medal, her interest in the ceremony will make it all the more memorable.

Why Nursing and sickle cell anaemia?

Growing up with Catholic Nuns in my adopted home, I remember having eczema and the loving and tender way the Nuns treated me inspired me to become a Nurse, I started out as a school nurse assistant in Wolverhampton at the age of 16. As a health visitor in the 70s, I encountered a lot of family who do not have enough understanding of and how to care for their children living with sickle cell anaemia. In 1979, I helped establish in Brent the first UK Sickle & Thalassaemia Screening and Counselling Centre.

Any professional involvement with Nigeria Nursing?

Yes, I am a patron of Nigerian Nurses Charitable Association UK and until few years ago make professional trips to Nigeria but at my age now, I don’t fly much, however, I have been and will continue to play my role as a patron supporting the association as always.

Why should one read your Memoire?

It’s titledMixed blessing from Cambridge union,’ derived from the romance between my father, a Nigerian law student, and my mother Mary, a Classics student from County Wexford and County Down, in Ireland who settled in Liverpool. As students at Cambridge University, they dared to fall in love at a time of discrimination against blacks and Irish people in England and I am the result.

On arrival, my parent’s unmarried status, being mixed race and the attendant shame it will bring to my strong Catholic grandparents at the time, led to me ending up in care.

The book takes readers on my fascinating life journey through childhood adversities, racism, exclusion and my quest to discover my true identity, tracking down my father, traveling to Nigeria to meet my extended family, my life as a Nurse and health visitor to becoming an Emeritus Professor of Nursing at the University of West London.

It’s a well-researched book that I hope will inspire readers.

                                                   With Dad Lawrence Odiatu Victor Anionwu in Onitsha Nigeria in 1978

What’s your view on honourees who turn it down because of the 'empire' in the title?

I perfectly understand the position of those who turn down the honours either because of the ‘empire’ affiliation or for other personal reason. In fact, I will welcome the idea of removing the ‘empire’ from the honours title because that period of history being associated with the honours today is just not on. If black people are to ‘get over it’ as is often said, then reminders like these need to be done away with.

So why didn’t you turn down yours?

I did turn down one.

When and why?

The reason I turned it down was strictly professional and not because of the ‘empire’ tag, however, I will leave that hanging for your audience to discover in my memoir - Mixed blessing from Cambridge union. All is revealed.

Elizabeth Anionwu’s memoirs ‘Mixed Blessings from a Cambridge Union’ is available in paperback at Waterstones and other reputable bookstores or online from Amazon or download an e-book version from Kindle Amazon & Kobo.


Visit Anionwu's website for more information:http://www.elizabethanionwu.co.uk   

Read 1566 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 January 2017 18:08