A special and personal tribute to Chief Sonny Odogwu
Very sadly, this week I won’t be writing in my usual column “Investing In Women.”
Instead, I have decided to dedicate my space and time to my dearest and senior Chief “Uncle” Sonny Odogwu who left us just over two months ago.
Being in London when the news broke, I was devastated and felt so sad I didn’t get to see him again-even just one last time.
I am also sorry that I am unable to make the events honouring him towards his final transition, so I am here to share some of my personal thoughts and memories.
Uncle Sonny was one of the people who made a real impact on me, meaning that I not only felt respectful towards him due to his age, but that I also admired him for his ability to come down to my level and exercise empathy while also being able to impart some wisdom on me.
This gave me the confidence and the “go-ahead” to be able to hold my own in a room with anyone, no matter their age; position; male or female; royal or not.
I was very fortunate to have engaged in long discussions with him, and as well as being the father of some of my close friends (who I also count as family), he oftentimes played the role of a mentor.
Sometimes he would just pick up the phone and try all my numbers, not even knowing where I was, all just to ask how I was.
One vivid memory I have of spending a significant amount of time with Uncle Sonny was during my time as the publisher of Time Out Nigeria Magazine.
Of course, I had heard of The Grand Hotel, and even though I didn’t personally do many field research trips, I decided to ask if I could come, arrange a photoshoot and write a review.
I suggested travelling with my friend Julie Zielger, the Bloomberg journalist at the time, and he insisted that we must come during a time when he was in Asaba.
Uncle Sonny ensured we were well taken care of and safe, and he arranged our transport to and from the airport.
It was also during this trip that I learned about what it’s really like to be a hotelier, and I was surprised and impressed by his hands-on approach, even getting involved in the recruitment of staff and hotel upgrade matters.
We stayed just one night, and it was a very memorable and entertaining one.
During dinner, Uncle Sonny pointed out to Julie and I that not many women were doing what we were doing at the time, and that we should be careful not to be taken advantage of.
We were grateful for his candour and his respect for our work. It was at this moment that I realised that Uncle Sonny had a knack for mentoring both women and men (and you can see this from his daughters’ upbringing).
I also remember Uncle Sonny was always there for my family during times of crisis. We would never need to seek him out, he would get wind of an issue and come rushing to the house.
Times such as when my dad was shot, ill with cancer and last but not least when he heard we were being sued in the Probate Court. He immediately recommended a top QC / SAN and advised we don’t joke with such matters in Nigeria.
He advised that we stand our ground and stand up for our rights.
On one fairly recent occasion when he dropped by for a surprise visit, he was already very much what you could classify as “elderly” and my mother was floored by how humble he was and suggested that WE should be the ones visiting him at HIS home.
There’s an impressive array out there about Uncle Sonny’s history in the press and media, and in the orders of service created in his honour. His business savvy; his role in society; how he embraced his culture and traditions; his Catholicism; and more.
Therefore, I would like to focus on a just one more area that really stands out for me -and as most writers do, I will write what I know.
For me, it’s not only a matter of what Uncle Sonny did or said, it is equally about what he’s left behind. That is, an impressive legacy, a wonderful family from children to grandchildren-who are all equally as prodigious (or larger than life) as he was.
Ken the gentleman comedian; Chini the great artist who was also the first black pupil at Wellington College (where we first met); Ngozi the epic athlete; Emeka who’s so famous for being Denzel Washington’s Doppleganger (all Uncle Sonny’s children resemble him by the way, where else do they get their million dollar smiles from?)
The list goes on…..Linda, who even before meeting her (and just once) in New York allowed me to stay in the family apartment – a kind and generous host.
Delores, who shares mutual friends and “sisters” with me, and who has the dearest of hearts but is able to draw the line at the same time-respect! Uche, who we all used to look up to as being the beautiful princess (baby girl of the family) and Obias.
Dear, dear, Obias who enjoys some reclusive moments – just like I do – and also kindly invited me to events, steering me into the world of Contemporary Art in Lagos when I was exploring the arts for publishing content.
All these are descendants of a great man, and a man who chose an amazing woman, dear Aunty Theresa, to stand by his side.
It’s no joke to be able to like or love all the children from one family, and Uncle Sonny would be very proud to know that I am not alone with these impressions of his family.
And I thank God that now that he is gone, I can still make an effort to share some moments of joy remembering him whenever I surround myself with this wonderful family.
To The Family: I am so sorry for your loss, and please rest in perfect peace, dearest, dearest, Uncle Sonny. Amen.