Community leader. Teacher. Humour merchant. Lover of God. Mentor. Family man. He was all these and a lot more. You needed to know him to appreciate the fine qualities God mixed in the right proportion to mould Sir Mathias Onyekwere, known admirably to a generation of Uvuru, Mbaise people as Sir Kwere.
I cannot recall exactly at what point in my life our parts crossed but I know that in the last 40 years at least, right from my teens, he has been a permanent feature in my consciousness.
He with my father, Chief Emmanuel Amuchie, had been involved in community service. This always brought him to our house. But Sir Kwere had a quality that made him different, a quality that drew me closer to him; the same quality that drew many people close to him. He was young at heart and this made him a lover of young people, a lover of children. So while he would relate with my father, he also developed a special interest in me. With time I became close to him even as he was old enough to be my father. For anyone it would not be difficult to get close to him. His presence any time, anywhere exudes (or exuded) conviviality, a kind of friendliness that becomes infectious, that banishes boredom. Even if one was angry Sir Kwere’s presence would electrify the environment and the anger would disappear. That is or was (Oh death!) his nature. There was never a dull moment with him.
Samuel Johnson once wrote that “It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time”. Sir Kwere lived well. The outpouring of emotion across the land of Uvuru and beyond immediately his transition to higher glory was announced is an eloquent testimony, if anyone was needed, of a life well lived in teaching and mentoring the young ones and in community service.
For so many years Sir Kwere was a teacher and for those years he brought up a whole generation of Uvuru sons and daughters, most of whom have become established in different areas of endeavour. That’s why across social media platforms his death has elicited so much shock, disbelief, so much discussion and in the weeks following his demise it has become the main issue being talked about.
In retirement Sir Kwere showed that he was never tired. He devoted his time to community service and both his village, Ndigbo and our community, Uvuru, benefitted enormously from his wisdom and tenacious devotion to duty. The electricity project executed by Ndigbo village bore his imprint. Till his last days he was involved in ensuring that the electricity project was well maintained to so that the area would not be thrown into darkness needlessly.
Stephen King eloquently stated “You needn’t die happy when your time comes, but you must die satisfied, for you have lived your life from the beginning to the end”. Sir Kwere lived a satisfied life. The state of the family he has left behind will attest to that. Even as he was breathing his last he must have reflected on his life’s journey and nodded satisfactorily that he acquitted himself graciously.
Sir Kwere has gone home to rest. He finished his earthly race at four years shy of four scores. He sees us and laughs at our worries for him. He is happy where he is now. As Oscar Wilde noted “Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace.”
St. Theresa of Calcutta, best known to the world as Mother Theresa captured it so beautifully when she said “Death is nothing else but going home to God; the bond of love will be broken for all eternity”.
Sir Kwere is not really dead as he lives in the hearts of those of us who were privileged to know him, to be associated with him, those of us who were lucky to drink from his fountain of kindness. To us and many others who have heard about him, heard about his exploits, his good deeds, he lives. Thomas Campbell’s words “to live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die” find expression here. George Eliot agrees with Campbell and says “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them”. Sir Kwere won’t die because we won’t forget him.
So as Sir Kwere will be lowered into the earth today, 29 December 2021, there should be no grief. He lived a fulfilled life. We should be grateful that our paths crossed his and that he lived in our midst. I agree with Thornton Wilder that “The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude”. Yes. Gratitude is what we owe for having Sir Kwere as a father, grandfather, teacher, kinsman, in-law, brother, cousin, mentor and friend.
Sir Matthias Onyekwere, irreplaceable, unforgettable, fare thee well. We are not mourning you. We are celebrating you, your legacy, your accomplishments.
Rest in peace.
•Max Amuchie, journalist and technology entrepreneur, is a Rotarian and member of Toastmasters International.