Tag Archives: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Remembering Clement Onyemelukwe

Clement Onyemelukwe — the “Father of Electricity” in Nigeria, whose 1963 marriage to a Peace Corps volunteer made news around the world, and who then spent many years in Westport with his wife Catherine — died last month at home. The cause was metastic non-small cell, non-smoker’s lung cancer. He was 86.

Clement Onyemelukwe

Clement Chukwukadibia Onyemelukwe was born April 1, 1933, in Nanka, Anambra State, Nigeria. After graduating from a premier colonial-era secondary school, he attended the University College Ibadan for 2 years before being sent by the British colonial government to Leeds University.

He received his B.Sc. engineering degree in 1956, and worked in the power sector in the UK. He acquired a second degree in economics from London University.

Onyemelukwe was recruited to fill civil service positions after Nigeria’s independence from Britain in 1960. By 1962 he was chief engineer of the Electricity Corporation on Nigeria.

During the nation’s civil war he led Biafra’s Coal Corporation and electrical utility, served as executive chairman of the Biafra Airports Board, and chaired the Panel on Post-War Reconstruction. He returned to Lagos and the Electricity Corporation after Biafra surrendered to Nigeria in 1970.

Onyemelukwe founded an engineering firm in Lagos in 1973, and a project management company in the UK 3 years later. He also wrote 5 books on economic growth. His latest, “The Decline of the American Economy,” will be published this spring.

Although, his obituary says, “his parents had rejoiced” that he returned to Nigeria after 9 years in the UK “without a foreign white wife,” in 1963 he met Catherine Zastrow.

They married the next year. The New York Times ran stories on the wedding. One was headlined “Peace Corps Worker to Wed Nigerian Engineer.” The marriage was also covered in Life and Ebony magazines.

Clement and Catherine Onyemelukwe’s marriage was covered by Life Magazine in January 1965.

Interracial marriage was still illegal in Kentucky, where Catherine lived while in the Peace Corps. When her parents returned home after the wedding, they had to change their phone number because of hate calls.

The couple received telegrams from around the world. Many were supportive, but some were not.

They moved to Westport in 1993. He became an American citizen in 2007. He spoke to the Y’s Men, and could often be seen researching or writing at the Westport Library.

Catherine Onyemelukwe was president of the library board in 1999-2000, and later became director of development for the Westport Weston Family Y. She is an active member of TEAM Westport, and the Unitarian Church.

Clement’s obituary calls him a well-loved church and community member. “His warm smile, easy laugh and joy in recounting stories of Nigeria made him an engaging conversationalist. He loved to discuss politics and economics.”

He is survived by his wife; 3 children, Chinakueze, Elizabeth and Samuel; 5 grandchildren, and 4 siblings.

His life will be celebrated on Saturday, March 7 (Unitarian Church of Westport, 1 p.m.). He will be buried in the family compound in his ancestral village beside his parents in April.

The Onyemelukwe family, Christmas 2019.

Just Another Day In Paradise: The Sequel

Compo and Old Mill were not the only local places looking lovely this weekend.

An  “06880” post earlier today spurred a couple of alert reader/photographers to send in their own images of fantastic already-well-into-November scenes. Enjoy!

Catherine Onyemelukwe drove by this Ford Road scene earlier today. It was so beautiful she stopped, turned around, got out, and captured the scene forever.

Catherine Onyemelukwe drove by this Ford Road scene earlier today. It was so beautiful she stopped, turned around, got out, and captured it forever.

Life in Fairfield County is good -- and gorgeous. (Photo/Amy Saperstein)

Life around here is good — and gorgeous. (Photo/Amy Saperstein)

The view from Saugatuck Sweets' plaza, across the river. Sweet indeed! (Photo/Amy Saperstein)

The view from Saugatuck Sweets’ plaza, across the river. Sweet indeed! (Photo/Amy Saperstein)

Click on or hover over any photo to enlarge it.

 

Westport And Nigeria Meet At Bloomingdale’s

The New York  Times’ “Metropolitan Diary” describes random incidents in the city. It’s the Big Apple equivalent of “06880”: anything is game, so long as it happened within the boundaries of the city (or, for this blog, town).

Today’s “Metropolitan Diary” is a double-dipper.

The story comes from a Westporter. Catherine Onyemelukwe writes about needing an eyebrow pencil at Bloomingdale’s. She’s helped by a petite black woman.

Eventually, Catherine asks where the saleswoman is from. When she says “Nigeria,” Catherine asks, “What tribe?”

The story continues:

 This wasn’t a ques­tion she ex­pect­ed from a white woman. “Ibo.”

“I na su Ibo? Do you speak Ibo?” I said.

“Oh my God,” she said to the sales­woman be­side her. “She speaks Ibo.”

She turned back. “Why, how … are you mar­ried to an Ibo man?”

“Yes,” I said.

Catherine Onyemelukwe met her husband  Clement while serving with the Peace Corps in Nigeria in the 1960s. (Photo/Suzanne Sheridan)

Catherine Onyemelukwe met her husband Clement while serving with the Peace Corps in Nigeria in the 1960s. (Photo/Suzanne Sheridan)

She drew me away from the cash reg­is­ter and said: “I just took my chil­dren to Ni­geria for the first time. They loved it. Ev­ery­one was so warm and wel­com­ing. It was dif­fer­ent from the U.S.”

“I know,” I said. “You re­mind me of the sense of be­long­ing I felt in Ni­geria for so many years.”

She had a cus­tomer wait­ing. I bought the eye­brow pen­cil and the shiny box of per­fume and cream. “Please come back. You don’t have to buy any­thing,” she said as she dou­ble-bagged my pur­chases.

“I will,” I promised.