Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu was the lady that Carried King Charles III’s Golden Orb at Coronation yesterday.
Dame Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu is a British born Nigerian nurse, health care administrator, lecturer, and Emeritus Professor of Nursing at the University of West London.
She was born in Birmingham, England, to an Irish mother and an Igbo Nigerian father. Her mother, Mary Maureen Furlong, was in her second year studying classics at Newnham College, Cambridge University.[ Her father, Lawrence Odiatu Victor Anionwu, was studying law at Cambridge University.
Her upbringing had been heavily affected by moving between institutions and family. She spent just over two years living with her mother, a relationship that ended when her stepfather, who did not accept her and drank heavily, started to physically abuse her. She was placed in a catholic children’s home where she was cared for by nuns, including several years in the Nazareth House convent in Birmingham.
Often harshly punished and humiliated for wetting the bed, she remembers being made to stand with a urine-soaked sheet over her head as a punishment for wetting the bed. In the book she recalls, that later in life when working as a health visitor, “I made sure to keep up-to-date with more humane treatments for bedwetting”. Nonetheless, she grieved leaving the convent to go and live with her mother. Every period of relative stability in childhood ended in sudden collapse. Following an unsettled childhood she qualified as a nurse, then health visitor. Shortly before her 25th birthday she suddenly found her father: barrister and former Nigerian Ambassador to Italy and the Vatican, Lawrence Anionwu. She was to visit Nigeria frequently and later changed her surname to Anionwu.
In 1979, Anionwu became the United Kingdom’s first sickle-cell and thalassemia nurse specialist, helping establish the Brent Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia Counselling centre with consultant haematologist Milica Brozovic. In 1998, by then a Professor of Nursing, Anionwu created the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice at the University of West London. She holds the Order of Merit, was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). She retired in 2007, and in 2016 she published her memoirs, Mixed Blessings from a Cambridge Union.