There is a mild debate among historians about what the actual last words of Augustus caesar were.
Was it “have I played my part well, now applaud as I exit” or was it the equally iconic “I found Rome a city of bricks, I left it a city of marble”.
Both words befitting eulogies of Rome’s first emperor and more recently, an Amazon of our time, the great Professor Grace Alele Williams.
Prof. Grace Alele Williams joined her ancestors on the 25th of March 2022 at the age of 89 and strangely, I feel the need to applaud.
Not in joy at her passing of course but in tribute to her numerous achievements while here with us on earth. I am sure I am not alone in this.
The Igbos say that when one sees an eagle, one should salute it because you don’t see eagles every day.
Prof.Grace Alele Williams was one such eagle, She was that eagle who soared far above all, going where none has gone before and charting paths for those behind.
She was the first woman to get a doctorate in mathematics in Nigeria, She was also the first female vice-chancellor in the country as well. She also served on the boards of Chevron-Texaco Nigeria as well as HIP, an asset management company.
In academics, she sat on curriculum boards helping to chart a course for a brighter future for students nationwide.
Ever the firebrand, she was an activist for a lot of prestigious causes with women’s rights and advancement in society being her primary concern. All in all, she was an intellectual colossus.
It was however in her position as a vice-chancellor that she would leave an indelible mark on Nigerian society.
She was appointed vice-chancellor of the University of Benin in 1985 against a backdrop of rising violence in Nigerian universities.
At the center of this violence were cult groups unleashing terror on lecturers, students, and rival groups.
Cults have moved from being peaceful cultural and social organizations that their founders envisioned to crime syndicates and society suffered from it most especially the universities.
These were the challenges and hurdles facing her as she resumed her appointment. She set up shop and set about defeating the invaders.
With a dual personality mirroring that of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and mother Theresa and not forgetting her impeccable leadership and man-management skills, she diminished cultism. What had been a torrential downpour had now become a trickle by the time she left office in 1991.
Her actions had a domino effect as well in the Nigerian university system as her tactics were copied leading to cultism becoming a shadow of its heyday.
Quizzed on how she did it by foremost Nigerian journalist Soni Irabor, she laconically replied ” I dealt with it!” What an Icon!
In recognition of her works and legacy, she received the order of the Niger from the Federal Government in 1987. Thirty years later, the University of Benin awarded her an honorary degree for her work with the school.
Great honors! but I will argue that she deserves more. Perhaps, the government will deem it fit to immortalize her by rechristening the University of Benin in her honor.
An honor that has never been conferred on a woman before, Prof. Grace Alele Williams though was a woman of firsts so I wouldn’t bet against that.
Outside the confines of work, she was a wife, a lovely mother, and a doting grandmother. She was married to the late professor Babatunde Williams whom she loved dearly.
Looked upon as an icon of the modern woman who could be a great professional and a family woman, she counseled women on how to juggle both work and marriage to achieve balance.
Her death leaves a vacuum in our society and our hearts and an even bigger dent in the family she left behind.
As we mourn this Amazon, we applaud amidst tears for the legacy she left behind and call on the lord to grant succor to her family and loved ones!
written by Oyeka Noble