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Mixed Blessings from a Cambridge Union

Dame Elizabeth N Anionwu


Dame Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu DBE FRCN (born Elizabeth Mary Furlong; 1947) is a British nurse, health care administrator, lecturer, and Emeritus Professor of Nursing at University of West London. In 1947 Elizabeth's mother, from a sheltered Catholic, Liverpool Irish working class heritage is studying Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge. She is the first one in her family to go to university – and then she discovers that she’s pregnant. The father is also a student at Cambridge, studying law. And he is black.
Elizabeth 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. In her memoir 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. 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 a PhD, 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.

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