Our Uncle, Issac Adedayo Akinrele, fondly referred to as Uncle D, was the third son of Venerable Archdeacon JF Akinrele, a teacher of men, a monarch of language possessed of the kind of intellect that filtered emotions out of distress, and who completed his academic sojourn with a Master’s degree in classics in Durham.
The second principal of Ondo Boys High School—an institution which he nurtured to educate a vast array of the talent of men whose intellect and integrity served as a moral barometer of our beloved country in their era—he resolved to educate men to the highest degree of their potential and envisioned his family as a model of his endeavour.
His success, measured by that of his children, first, Christopher Olufemi Akinrele, who blazed the trail with his educational pursuits in Ondo Boys High School (OBHS) which culminated with a Master’s degree in finance from Columbia, and who was an outstanding economist, administrator, and boardroom guru.
Then Frank Odunayo Akinrele, the cerebral and witty lawyer who embarked from OBHS, to Kings College Lagos (KC), and proceeded to the University of Hull, where he won the Andrew Marvell prize as the best law student in the university, and ultimately became an outstanding advocate of his generation.
And then Uncle D, who followed his brother from OBHS to KC where he pursued his academic studies and distinguished himself in all aspects of his learning.
A polymath, he won prizes in the Sciences as well as the Arts, also becoming the choir conductor and organist. At Cambridge University, he graduated with honours in Natural Sciences while also being a college long jump champion, then went on to Imperial College, for his Masters in Food Chemistry, and finally he bagged a PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Ibadan to fulfill his passion for local content.
He became one of Nigeria’s top-ranking diplomats and foremost scientist, thus leaving a solid example for his younger brother, the brilliant and mercurial Marshall Olatunde Akinrele, who also attended OBHS then KC, where he obtained the best results in the whole of West Africa in the ‘A’ level exams, and secured a scholarship to Trinity College Cambridge to study Engineering, and like him also became an outstanding industrialist and inventor.
Intellectually endowed and versatile, Uncle D became the first indigenous head of the Federal Institute of Research and Technology.
Intent on elevating the use of locally sourced raw materials over expensive imported ones, he developed products that created a profoundly beneficial impact on the Paper, Construction, Cosmetics and Beverages Industries, thus enabling them to be competitive and more efficient.
He put his energy and creativity to work, penning 62 scientific papers, and not surprisingly, four industrial patents were issued in his name.
He proceeded to represent his county in Europe as head of the Alliance of African, Pacific, Caribbean, and European countries.
He did this very successfully, promoting beneficial partnerships between Europe and African, Caribbean nations, which earned him an Order of Merit in Senegal, and recognition in Who is Who in both Africa and Europe.
Though Uncle D was a brainiac – industrious and with an unparalleled passion for life, he was harmoniously balanced, and unsurprisingly also an aficionado of Cuban cigars, Jaguars, and boats. He wore his class in the garment of confidence covered by humility.
He had steady habits, a steady nerve and a steady eye which caught the glamorous and attractive Funlayo Odunjirin, daughter of the famed educationist, Chief JSA Odunjirin -an affinity with his own parentage that must have provoked the attraction of similars.
As he made speeches during his tenure in Brussels on the virtues of the EU, in promotion of business partnership with Africa, on the same platform as Magaret Thatcher who was promoting the virtues of UK and Euro partnership, she was hosting the Prime Minister of Belgium and the President of the EU with grace and warmth that reflected her pedigree.
He married her in 1961 till death do them part, and in their parting within two weeks of each other, in the words of the English poet Binyon, they are united once more, where, “Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.”
Indeed Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra, the paragons of Shakespeare’s lovers, will envy them their gift of long life, and the blessing of more time afforded them.
I conclude by asserting that Uncle D, you bespoke of an aristocracy that was not dependent on money. You were comfortable with all because you were comfortable with yourself.
You viewed life as a service and you rendered it in a life well spent. Dostoevsky may well have had you in mind when he said- “the mystery of human existence lies not in staying alive but in finding something to live for”.
We are proud to be descendants of the torch you bore so gallantly and so worthily bequeathed. I pause to commend our grandfather for the courage of his conviction in enrolling his three younger sons in Kings College despite his headship of Ondo Boys High School, on account of improved opportunity.
His vision in encouraging their careers in a diverse manner, captured their individual talent in Economics, Law, Science, and Engineering respectively.
I observe respectfully that the most important contribution in this remarkable story is the role of our grandmother, the beautiful and fashionable Victoria Akinrele, progeny of the Akinkugbe family, whose discipline and devotion as a teacher and mother, ensured that not one of them faltered in their evolution.
She fused the individually different temperaments of the brothers into profound similar natures of industry and integrity. It was the hallmark currency that defined all their respective endeavours in life. We owe our beloved grandparents this irreparable debt of gratitude, and we thank Uncle D for translating, like his siblings, the vision of his parents into reality.
– By Ademola Akinrele (ex St. Gregory’s College)