The Cameroonian community across the UK is preparing an unusually grand send off party for one of theirs, who though born more than 6000 miles in the UK, was a true” son of the soil”. Brother Ronnie Hickman will be buried on Friday November 8, 2013 in Wolverhampton but will forever be remembered as the smiling, jovial and unassuming Marist Brother who was posted to teach Biology and Chemistry in Cameroon and adopted the country wholeheartedly.
He spoke pidgin English with a perfect local accent, drank “mbu”, carried his raffia bag and ate achu like any Bamenda man. He also spoke a couple of local languages fluently.
His sudden, tragic and unexpected death from a heart attack happened ten days after he celebrated the death of his mother who died earlier in the year, with the North West Community in the UK.
Daniel Anjeh Okobi was a fellow chemistry teacher and enthusiast and close friend of the late brother Ronnie, popularly known as “Ngia Ndeh” by members of the Cameroonian community in the UK.
He Spoke to Francis Ngwa about Ngia Ndeh and the legacy he will leave behind following his untimely death.
Q How did you receive news of the death of Brother Ronald Hickman considering you were one of his closest friends?
On Wednesday, October 16th. I was just about to leave the house for work, when I picked up my phone and saw two missed calls from Br. Ronald Hickman! There was a message to my phone too, which read, “Pick up your phone please, signed Susan!” That Susan, who I know as Bro. Ronald Hickman’s sister, should be using his phone to reach me, set alarm bells ringing!!! Something must be seriously wrong here I thought! Why would Susan be using his phone to reach me? Bro. Ronnie in whatever vegetative state would reach me without the assistance of anybody.
So instead of waiting for her to call again, I returned her call. She picked up and from the tone of her voice, I knew it. Bro. Ronnie is…and she confirmed my fears; “Bro. Ronnie is no more!”. That he died at …!!!
It was a shock to my nervous system and I went into a cold lapse and could not speak for about a minute. I found a place, sat down, and all I could hear from the other end is, “Daniel, are you alright?” I said, “Yes. Please give me a few minutes and I will call you back.”
Tears just started flowing. I decided to call a few friends and inform them. Their advice was, calm down, compose yourself and call Susan! This I did and she related to me in detail how it came to pass that our Brother is no longer with us!!! Needless to say, I phoned my office and took the day off work.
Until his burial that will take place on November 8th 2013, would it really sink in that Br. Ronnie is gone! I am liaising with his family, the Marist Brotherhood to which he belonged, the Cameroon North West Cultural Association, SHESA UK and other groups and the general public, on how best to send him on his eternal journey. In a way, I am coming to terms with his death.
Q Apparently, his death at 53 was unexpected?
Br. Ronnie died in his sleep, on his bed, in his home! All he had complained of to his family, was of a cold two days earlier. This is the time of year that many people suffer from common colds and usually recover without taking any medication. May I equally add that on October 6th 2013, the Cameroon North West Cultural Association here in the UK, organised celebrations in honour of his mum who passed away a few months ago. Bro Ronnie brought his remaining immediate family to the celebrations. He looked well. I took some pictures and also made a short video, all of which I posted online at his request. Anybody can watch this video on YouTube from the following link;http://youtu.be/uoQ5V96yxcM .
That he should pass away a few days later is just unbelievable. As we now know, Br. Ronnie died from a heart failure and we never knew he had heart problems.
Maybe he knew he had the problem but never wanted us to know. Yes, by all accounts, this was sudden and unexpected. May his soul rest in peace.
Q It is no secret you were one of his closest friends but how did you first meet him?
In 1989, I was employed as a Chemistry teacher in St. Bedes College Ashing Kom. When I got to Ashing, the school had no functional laboratory. Through negotiations by the Catholic Education Secretary, the Upper Cycle Science students (Biology & Chemistry) of St. Bedes and their teachers would travel to Sacred Heart College Mankon, every weekend of the school term for the students to have their practical lessons in the laboratories in Sacred Heart college.
This is when and how I came to know Br. Ronald Hickman. My wonderful colleague in Sacred Heart College, Mankon. He would receive our students, pair them up with his students and conduct the experiments that needed to be done, all through the weekend, and we would return happily to St. Bedes on Sundays. This went on for a year until I was able to get funding and equip the lab in St. Bedes in 1990-1991 The lab in St Bedes, as I left it, is modeled on that in Sacred Heart College Mankon, thanks to Br. Ronnie.
Q How will you describe him as a man and a friend?
Brother Ronald Hickman as a man was an epitome of all that is good in the world. A man of very high moral standards, of probity and of sound intellect. He believed in justice, fairness and in the common good. He was a very happy person, who by vocation or not, knew and practised what altruism is all about: doing good for the common good. He would go that extra mile to help when called upon to do so. He never saw faults in anybody, but weaknesses; and would always do his best to help.
As a friend, personally, he was godsend! Maybe he was my guardian angel. He brought the best out of me. He taught me humility but above all, my eldest children adored him and will miss him dearly. Like me, they are in shock too. He was quite instrumental in their secondary education here in the UK. He was a great mentor to them. Talking of which, many a Cameroonian family here in the UK, would testify to this, too.
Q You worked with Bro Ronnie when he was a teacher in Sacred Heart College in Bamenda. I learnt from past students of the school he would do anything to help them understand his lessons?
Br. Ronnie was a consummate professional. He would use all sorts of tricks to pass his message/knowledge across to his students. He would tell me, look; “Teaching chemistry is not a lesson in English grammar! If you realise that the young ones, fresh from primary school, are not understanding you, break it down in a language that they can understand. If it means teaching them in pidgin English, do so!” I found this advice quite helpful. He did not stop at young ones from Primary school; he would lecture in pidgin at any level. Clownish? Yes, but it did the trick! Job done to the satisfaction of all.
He was quite resourceful too. He showed me how you can captivate the attention of your students by unravelling the mysteries around them. Take for instance, the test for acids and bases. Many a teacher would use an indicator from a bottle! But what is an indicator? He showed me how flower petals would serve a similar purpose. I tried it, and it worked. That was the genius and practicality of the man.
He would exercise this knowledge again within our Cameroon North West Cultural Association as we looked at various means to raise funds towards planned projects in Cameroon.
Q Though a full blown British, he spoke pidgin English with a more than perfect Cameroonian accent and knew some of the customs and traditions of the North West more than some people who were even born and bred there?
Indeed. The man was a polyglot!!! I can’t tell you how many languages he was able to speak. Fact is, he knew and spoke quite a few. As for his mastery of the customs and traditions of the grass field regions, by this I mean the North West and West Regions, Brother Ronnie, is someone who in anthropological terms would be described as, ‘having gone native’ He knew how to address a council of elders-clap, as you enter and take your sit! Eat your ‘achu’ with your fingers and polish the plate with your fingers, not with a fork or spoon!! “Muyaka” and other variations (thank you) in grace for what he has been offered, he would say, to the amusement of many, but a lesson to many sitting in his midst.
As a graffi man, he dressed accordingly and would carry his bag with his drinking cup therein! He knew and observed all these, with due attention paid to detail. If he made a faux pas, he would apologise unreservedly.
That he put many a Cameroonian from this region to shame, for not observing such etiquette, within their milieu is now history! He was a true son of the soil.
Q I understand he was even an EXCO member of The NW cultural Association in the UK?
Brother Ronald Hickman, until his untimely death, held the post of General Secretary in the executive body of the Cameroon North West Cultural Association, UK. He was not just a member, but a very active member too. He leaves a void within this association.
His sense of belonging to this association was exemplary. Come moments when the association needed to raise funds, his schemes were ingenious! He would grow vegetable seedlings which could be auctioned! One such scheme brought in almost £100.00 into the associations coffers!.
Bro. Ronnie we should remember came to Cameroon as a missionary. He chose to render his services in the field of education; teaching our young, nurturing them and turning them into bright young sparks, some who now occupy various positions of responsibility in Cameroon and the diaspora. He was a formidable teacher who had the best interests of the Cameroonian child and Cameroon, as a developing country, at heart.
Q His sudden death is a great loss to Cameroon and the North West in particular. What would you say Cameroon has lost as a result of his death?
Today we hear of sustainable development in developing countries. Br. Ronnie had harboured such ideas since the late 80’s! As an example, he saw the Chemistry syllabus inadequate to the needs of Cameroon. Students were being taught industrial processes that they will never come across in their life time. He argued that the syllabus could be modified to include and advance the production of gainful substances from the raw materials that are locally available and abundant (palm wine, palm oil)! He did not just talk, he showed me a draft of the notes he had prepared, should his idea be taken into consideration.
He was a leader too. In 1989, he masterminded the formation of the North West Chemistry Teachers Association. Many schools in the North West subscribed to this association, and every term, there would be a seminar hosted by one of these schools. In the third term, before the GCE Exams are written, students of the affiliated schools would have a mock GCE test. Needless to say, Br. Ronnie would prepare all the questionnaires and dispatch these to the various schools.
Bro. Ronnie, was looking forward to returning to Cameroon and to continue with his work. He was hoping to find solace and love again in his adopted country, after losing his beloved Mum a few months ago. May we pray for the repose of their souls.
In sum, we have lost a great Cameroonian!!!! A true man of the people, a brother and a friend. How much? Only the good Lord knows!! Let us be satisfied and thankful for the little that he did for us individually and collectively. His legacy is everywhere to be seen, in our hearts and our minds. He was a good man.
Q How will you personally remember him?
My family will always remember him with pride and joy; for his name and memories will forever remain! He was the godfather of our son named Ronald in his honour!! On a personal level, what else can I say? I have lost a true friend-kind, caring, genial, and as I mentioned earlier, he epitomised all that is good in this our world
Bro Ronald Hickman trained thousands of students in Sacred Heart College Mankon Bamenda. One of them is Our very own Vitalis N Tanteh. Here is his tribute