Close friends, family, some Marists brothers and an impressive representation of the Cameroonian community in the UK defied the drizzling rain on Friday November 8 2013 to give brother Ronald Hickman a befitting burial. The kind- hearted, generous and jovial former teacher of Sacred Heart College, Mankon will forever lie at the Beacon Hill Cemetery in his hometown Wolverhampton in the west Midlands. England.
He died peacefully at home in his sleep on October 16, 2013.
The day began with the viewing of the mortal remains at his family home in Wolverhampton town. Things were uneventful until a bus load of NW people drove in from London to pay their respects to their departed association official. Dressed in traditional North West attire, they arrived and started singing, immediately bringing life to the quiet funeral ceremony. The remains were then transported to St Theresa’s church for the requiem mass.
How do you solve a problem like Ronnie?
Chief celebrant Monsignor Bishop John Armitage of the Diocese of Brentford described Brother Ronald Hickman as “ a totally eccentric, old fashioned teacher” who had an undying love for his adopted country Cameroon where he served as teacher for more than two decades. He was preparing to return again to teach in Cameroon before he was untimely snatched by death.
Still in his tribute, Monsignor Armitage asked rhetorically; “how do you solve a problem like Ronnie?” a reference to the eccentric character of Maria in classic musical “The Sound of Music”. Like Maria, Brother Ronnie had his unique way of teaching his students Biology and Chemistry and sometimes explained difficult concepts in pidgin English.
“Not everybody fits in the mould” Mon. Armitage explained away the eccentric behaviour of the well loved Brother Ronnie.
Some of the students he taught are now doctors, scientists and engineers around the world. “Teaching is a science of Love..and brother Ronnie was a man of great love” Mon Armitage told the mourners.
After the funeral service, the remains were driven to the Beacon Hill Cemetery where Brother Ronnie was finally laid to rest, with family and friends bidding farewell to an “amazing man” tearfully.
The post burial reception organized by the family and the Marists brothers took place at the Horse and Jockey pub near the cemetery. The Cameroon North West Cultural Association-UK, went along with a few dishes to support at the reception. Mourners finally had drinks and some food.
A measure of the high regard in which “Ngia Ndeh”, the British born white “Cameroonian”, was held in the Cameroonian community is that two officials of the Cameroon High Commission in London were present for his burial. Deputy High Commissioner Mr Denis Nyuydzewira and Colonel Joseph Ngwafor, military attache at the High Commission were present to pay their own tributes. Mr Nyuydzewira described the death of Brother Ronnie as “Shocking and brutal” wishing that he travels to the heavenly kingdom in “peace and God receives his soul. The deputy Commissioner praised the self deprecating and loving nature of the departed Marist brother saying he “became one of us…He became a notable and was given a traditional title Ngia Ndeh”. He extended his condolences to the bereaved family thanking them for giving the Cameroonian community a chance to “celebrate his life”.
Colonel Joseph Ngwafor described Brother Ronnie as a great man who will be “greatly missed”.
The Cameroon North West Cultural Association president Stephen Nfor told Iroko Magazine late Ngia Ndeh leaves behind a legacy of “simplicity and love for humankind regardless of colour, creed et cetera and his death is a great loss”. Though born in the UK, “Ngia Ndeh” was Secretary General of the Association and probably will be the only British born person who will hold such a position from a country that only became his adopted home.
Taba Devaleur, a musician and close friend described Ngia Ndeh as a big man with a big heart who helped educate thousands of young Cameroonians. “He became a brother of ours. He was a very good man” he said.
Shaun Ginty, a cousin of “Ngia Ndeh” said the family was happy the Cameroonian community held him in such high esteem and they were quite overwhelmed with the exceptional turnout for his funeral and the added importance they gave to the occasion. Funerals are usually quiet reflective occasions in the UK but Brother Ronnie’s funeral was in typical Cameroonian style a noisy, crying and a dancing celebration of the life of a departed relative. Most of Brother Ronnie’s relatives were witnessing that for the first time and Shaun Ginty his cousin confessed they never knew “Ngia Ndeh” was such a big star among Cameroonians.
Among the mourners were SOBA UK President Shupo Francis, SOBA UK Treasurer Akoh-Arrey, BBC World Service journalist Veronique Edwards, Sacred Heart College Interim president Akwo Fese Effimba, Joseph Foncha, Pa Ndiforyen, Ma Rose Njinimbot Bali Cultural Association president, former Ex students of Sacred Heart College Bamenda, family members of “Ngia Ndeh” and a cross section of Cameroonian Community members in the UK.