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Tribute: M.O.Lawrence Black

28 February 2017 at 00:13 | 1006 views

By Dr. Handel Wright, Vancouver, Canada.

This is hard to write. My Uncle Lawrence (photo) has passed at the age of 99.

My cousin Geoff and my sister (who is visiting London from Freetown) told me together on a joint phone call. This is the end of an era. MOL Black, my Uncle Lawrence, was the husband of my Aunty Tunde (my father’s sister).

They left our native Sierra Leone and settled early in London, England and together they made London a true “home away from home” for me, my siblings and indeed all the Wrights of my generation. Aunty Tunde treated all her siblings’ children as her own. It was therefore unthinkable for me to visit London and not spend considerable time at their home, “40 Manor Court, Leigham Avenue, in Streatham” (memorized and useful to repeat offhead and offhand to immigration at Heathrow when asked who I knew in London, especially in the days when I carried a Sierra Leonean passport).

Aunty Tunde would meet you at the door with a huge beaming smile and a long hug and fuss over you and feed you a full meal which she would hover to watch you eat. Uncle Lawrence would stay behind somewhat impatiently at the door and offer the firmest of handshakes once he had a chance to get to you and at the end of your meal would insist “Kasho might like something a little stronger” in place of Aunty Tunde’s soft drink and bring out the Johnny Walker Black Label and beer (the latter unfortunately always at room temperature as, supposedly, per the old English custom).

Sharp as a tack and up to date on just about every topic under the sun, he was a true conversationalist. I had sent him a copy of my PhD thesis when he asked, assuming he wanted to simply see it and was surprised to be subjected to a thorough discussion of the work on my next visit, one that easily rivaled my actual dissertation defence.

Every time Aunty Tunde left the living room was time for his eyes to twinkle mischievously as he whispered questions about one’s love life, only to change the subject deftly upon her reappearance.

A firm leftist and lifelong member of the Labour Party, he was beside himself with frustration during the Thatcher years and long after she was out of power still referred to Margaret Thatcher as “the milk snatcher” (indeed I learned the moniker from him). He was decidedly ambivalent about “New Labour,” much preferring the old, truly leftist model.

He was fascinated by technology and insisted on having internet at home and often told me of problems he was having with his email account or his smartphone (indeed he always had models way ahead of mine so I was completely useless to help him).

Uncle Lawrence’s strongest ties to Sierra Leone were to his beloved alma mater, the Prince of Wales Secondary School. He was not just a proud Old Boy of the POW but a very active member of the Old Boys Association in England (including serving as President at one point). He was fond of discussing the school and the association and showing off POW materials, including large calendars hung up in the living room, when I visited. He never said it out loud but I know he must have been disappointed that my brothers and I did not follow his and my father’s footsteps and attend the POW but rather, inexplicably to him and I’m sure many others, attended the nearby Saint Edward’s secondary.

Aunty Tunde died several years ago and it has been strange and sad to visit and be greeted by a shuffling, much slower Uncle Lawrence, alone. But last time I visited he was still engaging and was truly chuffed at Obama’s election and especially his re-election and railed mightily against the “obstructionist” Republicans. Uncle Lawrence has died at 99. He has missed out on hearing from the Queen (who I understand sends out a message to anyone who makes it to 100). Wonder if that was on purpose: not sure how he would have felt about that bit of fuss.

Anyway, now, if I go to London, I will have to remember not to rattle off “My Aunty Gladys and Uncle Lawrence at 40 Manor Court, Leigham Avenue in Streatham” if asked by immigration who I know in England. I will need to remember that I should no longer drop off my luggage, hop on the tube, take the Victoria Line to Brixton Station, get off and take bus 59 or 159 or 133 or 250 to Streatham. Forget the station, forget the several bus alternatives, forget Streatham, indeed forget 40 Manor Court for there will be no loving small voice and warm hug and lovely meal of welcome from Aunty Tunde and there will be no firm handshake and long, whisky lubricated, robust political discussion with Uncle Lawrence.

RIP Uncle Lawrence. Your passing truly means the end of an era.

Dr. Handel Wright

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