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Nigeria’s Dame Anionwu handed key role at King Charles’ coronation



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Prof Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, a former nurse recently appointed to the Order of Merit is the first British of Nigerian descent to be handed a key role in British coronation ceremony as she has been selected to carry the Orb during the coronation Ceremony of King Charles on May 6.

The Sovereign’s Orb, representing the monarch’s power and God’s granting of that power to the monarch, is a round hollow sphere of gold adorned with a cross.

The Orb was designed by the royal goldsmith, Sir Robert Viner, for the Coronation of King Charles II. In 1671, Colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal the Sovereign’s Orb along with the other Crown Jewels.

During the Coronation, the Archbishop of Canterbury places the Orb in the monarch’s right hand, then the Orb is placed on the altar before the monarch is crowned.

Prof Dame Elizabeth Anionwu is UK’s first sickle cell and thalassemia nurse specialist and Campaigner for a statue of Mary Seacole.

Mary Seacole was the first named memorial of a Black Woman in the UK.

Dame Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu OM DBE FRCN (born Elizabeth Mary Furlong; 2 July 1947) is a British nurse, healthcare administrator, lecturer, and Emeritus Professor of Nursing at the University of West London.

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In 1979, Anionwu became the United Kingdom’s first sickle-cell and thalassemia nurse specialist, helping establish the Brent Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia Counselling centre with consultant haematologist Milica Brozovic. In 1998, by then a Professor of Nursing, Anionwu created the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice at the University of West London. She holds the Order of Merit, was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). She retired in 2007, and in 2016 she published her memoirs, Mixed Blessings from a Cambridge Union.

Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu was born Elizabeth Mary Furlong in Birmingham, England, to an Irish mother and a Nigerian father. Her mother, Mary Maureen Furlong, was in her second year studying classics at Newnham College, Cambridge University.

Her father, Lawrence Odiatu Victor Anionwu, was studying law at Cambridge University.


Her upbringing had been heavily affected by moving between institutions and family. She spent just over two years living with her mother, a relationship that ended when her stepfather, who did not accept her and drank heavily, started to physically abuse her. She was placed in a catholic children’s home where she was cared for by nuns, including several years in the Nazareth House convent in Birmingham.

Following an unsettled childhood she qualified as a nurse, then health visitor. Shortly before her 25th birthday she suddenly found her father: barrister and former Nigerian Ambassador to Italy and the Vatican, Lawrence Anionwu. She was to visit Nigeria frequently and later changed her surname to Anionwu.

Anionwu began her nursing career inspired by a nun who cared for her eczema. At the age of 16, she left school with seven O-levels and started to work as a school nurse assistant in Wolverhampton.

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She continued with education to become a nurse, health visitor, and tutor. She travelled to the United States to study counselling for sickle-cell and thalassemia centres as courses were not then available in the UK.

In 1979 she worked with Dr Milica Brozovic to create the first UK sickle-cell and thalassemia counselling centre in London Borough of Brent. This was the first of over 30 centres in the UK using the Brent Centre as a model.

In 1990 she was a lecturer at the Institute of Child Health, University College London, later promoted to senior lecturer. With the help of Professor Marcus Pembrey, Anionwu taught a course at University College London for National Health Service (NHS) staff members who worked with communities affected or at risk of sickle-cell disease, cystic fibrosis, Tay–Sachs disease and thalassaemia.

Anionwu was appointed dean of the School of Adult Nursing Studies and Professor of Nursing at University of West London. Here she created the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice at the University of West London, retiring in 2007. In 2001, Anionwu, along with Professor Atkin, wrote The Politics of Sickle Cell and Thalassemia.

In 2005, she wrote, A Short History of Mary Seacole. In 2003 she became a Trustee and subsequently vice-chairperson of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal. Following the unveiling of the statue at St Thomas’ Hospital in June 2016 she was appointed a Life Patron of the Mary Seacole Trust.

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