Prof. Theodosia E. McMoli, 1938-2012
MBBS (Ibadan); D.O-Ophthal (England); FRCS-(Edinburgh); FWACS, FNMC
By Joyce Ashuntantang, Ph.D.
Her accolades emblazon her name in any academic hall of fame worldwide and we can only usher in a triumphant beating of the drums as we call the roll of some of her trailblazing achievements in their rightful order:
- Manyu Division's First Medical Doctor
- Cameroon's Second Female Doctor
- Anglophone Cameroon's First Ophthalmologist
- Pioneer Dean of Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Buea,
- Pioneer Director of the Higher Institute of Health Sciences, Cameroon Christian University, Bali.
Yes, Professor Theodosia Eyong McMoli blazed a trail for young men and women alike to follow, yet she was so unassuming and even self-effacing. If she walked down the street you could pass her by without a second thought. Her humble disposition amongst ordinary people never betrayed that she was one of those whose exceptional achievements placed her squarely in the Cameroon pantheon of academic fame with the likes of Late Prof. Victor Anomah Ngu.
Born on June 15, 1938, she was the first of five children of the legendary headmaster of the 30’s and 40’s, Mr. Mathias Ebot Ojongtambia and Princess Susana Ebai-Nso of the Oben royal family of Mamfe Town. She definitely set the pace for her siblings Mrs. Jedida Zumafor, Mrs. Faustina Yembe, Mr. Jasper Ojongtambia and Mr. Cyril Ojongtambia.
In 1954, Aunty Theo or Sister Theo, as she was fondly called enrolled in Queens College, Ede, Southern Nigeria, an elite all girls secondary school founded in 1952 to honor Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne. At this time there were no secondary education avenues for women in Cameroon. She later enrolled at the University of Ibadan to study medicine. This was a formidable feat given the limited opportunities. Consequently, when she graduated as a medical doctor in 1967, she inscribed her name in the academic hall of fame in multiple categories. She went on to England where she earned a Doctor of Ophthalmology from the London School of Physicians in 1972 and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS), Edinburgh in 1976. After working in England and enduring the challenges of a young African doctor in a predominantly white environment, she returned to Nigeria in 1978 taking up employment at the Lagos University College of Medicine as lecturer Grade I. Here, she showed her academic prowess once again, rising to the top of her profession as Consultant/Associate Professor. She was also inducted as a fellow of the West African College of Surgeons (FWACS), and Fellow of the Nigerian Medical Council (FNMC). It is also in Nigeria where she met her husband, a fellow Cameroonian Mr. Lucas Mokongo McMoli with whom she has two children, Malafa and Ojong. The McMoli’s returned to Cameroon in 1986 and Prof. McMoli was employed as head of Ophthalmology at the Yaoundé University Teaching Hospital popularly known by its French acronym C.U.S.S until 1993 when she again blazed the trail to become the founding Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences in the newly opened University of Buea. While at the University of Buea she rose to the rank of full professor. On May 20th 2003, the Cameroon government recognized her contributions to the nation and awarded her a medal of the National order of valor. In 2004, after 11 years of meritorious groundbreaking service at the university, she retired from the Cameroon civil service.
Even in retirement she continued to share her vast medical knowledge with the Cameroon community. As an ardent Christian of the Presbyterian Church, she was not only on the board of Presbyterian health services; she became a doctor at the Presbyterian Health Center in Bafoussam. With the intention of tapping into her vast experience and immediate knowledge of setting up a faculty of health sciences, she was appointed as the pioneer Director of the Higher Institute of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences of the newly established Cameroon Christian University. It is in this position that she met her untimely death inside her own house under circumstances still under investigation.
Despite her page turning accolades, what I will remember about Professor McMoli is her simplicity. Our families have interacted over decades in various ways and in 1997, Dr. Martha Ashuntantang Zama, my oldest sister became her faculty officer while she was Dean at the University of Buea. After working together for eight years, their relationship blossomed to mother and daughter status. It is through this relationship that I came to know her even better. Her life revolved around her professional work, church activities and her immediate community. She was not pretentious and never used her learning as a mask of superiority. Soft spoken and gentle in her ways, punctuality was second nature to her. She never worked on the so called “African time”. No doubt when she did not show up for her regular prayer session that fateful Tuesday June 5th it was an immediate cause for alarm. She was not one to be late, let alone being absent without anyone knowing beforehand.
Known for her quiet jokes which sometimes had a biting edge, she was extremely comfortable in her own skin and proud of her ethnic identity as someone of the Bayang ethnic group, a Cameroonian and an African. It was always surprising to most people in Cameroon when they found out she was a staunch member of Temple Choir which sings predominantly in Kenyang and does not enjoy elite status like the English choir. As a physician of high rank most Cameroonians thought if she were to sing in a choir in church it should be the English choir where she could show off her learnedness- but no! The trunk of her car usually held the Temple choir drums! I was a fan of her devotion to the Kenyang language and the Manyu cultures in general. In 2007, during one of her many trips to the United States, she brought some of her Temple choir CDs for sale. I enjoyed the CD so much that I got my kids to learn one of the songs:
“Tuo yeka se ngati mbok Mandem ane afu ndu Phillipians; achi hati veseh veh, ye tegheh muh a siepti muet amek, an-su ne nereu ni veh yesu kachi moh Mandem.”
Knowing her love for all things cultural and the Kenyang language in particular, it was with excitement and pride that I called her on the phone to listen to the children sing the song. She was very fascinated and ready to translate, “Come let us share the word of God as it is written in Philippians; Everyone should humble themselves and confess with their tongue that Jesus is the son of God”. She was happy that despite living in the US, I was interested in the children knowing Kenyang. She charged me not to relent in this effort. Her encouragement meant the world to me.
In as much as I am pained by the way her life came to an abrupt end in the hands of yet to be identified person(s), I will not dignify their act by dwelling on it. If I do that, I will be negating her highly successful and fulfilling 74 years on our earth.
Professor Theodosia Eyong McMoli, you were a pioneer. You exited tall on the wings of your earthly achievements and the grace of a God you served so faithfully. In the tradition of our ancestors, I now ululate before you, wishing you well in your transition into the spiritual realm:
Aunty Theo Ajaoh!!
Aunty Doctor Ajaoh!
Moh Mbeuh Mammie Ebai-Nso Ajaoh!!
Moh Mbeuh Headmaster Ojongtambia Ajaoh