By Chuka Momah
In his column in the Punch Newspaper in December 1983, Uncle Bisi Lawrence effusively praised Ayo Ositelu (RIP) and myself for the columns that we had written that year.
The highly knowledgeable Ayo Ositelu, wrote for the Punch Newspaper while I wrote for the Sunday Concord Newspaper edited by my friend, the ebullient and feisty Dele Giwa (RIP).
Bisi Lawrence had just turned 50 years of age. In consequence therefore, I dedicated my next column to him. The column titled, “When the Wife is More Successful than the Husband,” examined the relationship between superstar tennis champion, Chris Evert, and her far less successful (tennis-wise) husband, John Lloyd.
I was delighted that Bisi Lawrence phoned me that he enjoyed that column. Thereafter, I visited him at home, and a most fulfilling friendship and camaraderie commenced in spite of the age difference between us. Seems like yesterday. How time flies! And with it, impending mortality!
Bisi Lawrence was a maverick. A man of many parts and dimensions. A giant among men. A man for all seasons. He knew so much about so many aspects of life. His vast array of knowledge seemed infinite. Sometimes, it was simply bewildering.
Sports was only one of his many abiding passions; only one portion on the wide canvass on which this supremely talented artiste exhibited his intoxicating genius.
Bisi Lawrence was indeed, a wise man! With the passage of time, I got to know him better. We shared many incandescent moments – from such relative undertakings as offering prayers for me to formally commence habitation in a personal property, to numerous occasions when we consumed sumptuous and delicious meals of amala at the Lagos Country Club, GRA, Ikeja and in other locations, among others.
I remember the culinary feasts (the proverbial piece de resistance) organized by Bisi Lawrence and sponsored by the publisher, Uncle Sam Amuka, for some of us who he considered his friends at the Vanguard Newspapers premises.
Memorable times indeed! I thoroughly relished and cherished every moment spent in the company of this quite extraordinary and accomplished gentle man.
In 1987, I served in the “Heroes of Yesteryears” Committee set up by the federal government through the Ministry of Sports. Then Air Commodore (later Air Vice Marshal) Bayo Lawal, (“my grand teacher”) at the great Government College Ibadan, was the Sports Minister of the Federation.
Bisi Lawerence was the Chairman of the Committee which featured a diverse assemblage of exuberant fellows. The espirit de corps was palpable. The great athlete (later President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN)), Violet Odogwu Nwajei, was a member.
So was the highly talented and ever jocular John Chukwu (RIP), among others. I have forgotten some of the names of this assemblage as the memory dims. The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Sports Ministry (I don’t remember the other attachments to the Ministry!), the one and only Jibade Fasina Thomas (Jabby!), coordinated the entire exercise.
This irrepressible gentleman was simply fabulous. As expected, Bisi Lawrence was the ‘glue’ that held this astonishing assemblage together. Simply put, his leadership was inspirational. Interesting times and even more interesting folks!
Bisi Lawrence was affable, loyal and a most reliable friend. He was like family to me, so much so I could almost follow him blindfolded!
His mastery of the English Language was unassailable and insuperable. He was the quintessential wordsmith. He wrote the masterful foreword to my books and was the Chairman during the press presentation at the Lagos Country Club, Ikeja.
I made it a point of duty to talk to him on the telephone every week. This was not always possible but I endeavoured to keep it up. Each conversation with him was truly fascinating. His range of knowledge was all-encompassing. Almost limitless. He would even lecture me on religion – the Grail Message, among others.
Nobody can win the race against father time. Gradually, the aging process became evident, insidiously but certainly. When his phone was always switched off towards the end, I was gripped with trepidation. I mentioned this to one of his special friends, the erudite and debonair Dele Adetiba.
There was a special connection among Bisi Lawrence, Dele Adetiba, Fabio Lanipekun and Yinka Craig (RIP). In fact, it was this fascinating and special trio who worked under the leadership of Bisi Lawrence in a different era, who ingeniously decided in their collective wisdom that the best way to address their boss was simply to refer to him affectionately as “Egbons” instead of Egbon which probably without ultimate exactitude, should approximate in the Yoruba Language to ‘senior brother.’
Perhaps overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment, I am not quite able to conjure the words or turns of phrase to do deserved justice to this quite unusual man. What a life! And what a man! Here was a Caesar, whence cometh another?!
Bob Dylan famously eulogized the legendary Muhammad Ali thus: “He was the bravest, kindest and most excellent of men.” Without hesitation, I will borrow Dylan’s majestic and imperial words and say of Uncle Bisi Lawrence – “He was the bravest, kindest and most excellent of men.”
“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” So wrote Thomas Campbell – 1777-1814 – in his transcendental and inimitable poem, “Hallowed Ground.” With Bisi Lawrence in mind, Campbell was consolingly right. And indeed, we must all be consoled by this fact.
Rest in peace my dear Egbons. Rest in peace, great one. It was indeed a privilege and an honour to have been your friend.
May flights of angels sing thee to thine well deserved rest.