Margaret Murray-Bruce: If I Were to Return to School, I Might End up Being a Journalist – THISDAY Newspapers
Margaret Murray-Bruce A Long-standing Matriarch at 95
If you desire to live a beautiful and healthy life, you may take a few pointers from Margaret Murray-Bruce who in her 90s is as stunning as ever. Her enchanting elegance complements her polished and radiant skin; cutting the image of a woman in her 70s. She is full of life and blessed with a sound mind that recalls with ease past occurrences with acute accuracy. No doubt, the Murray-Bruce matriarch has lived a fulfilled life and raised successful children who are wave makers in their own right. As she turns 95 on October 26, 2021, she shares some episodes of her life with Funke Olaode
Her sprawling bungalow in Yaba Area, Lagos is befitting for a king. The cool breeze blows relentlessly from several gigantic trees that dotted the earthy compound. A walk through the living room reveals her charming face which stares back at you in old family photographs, all neatly arranged on the walls. The family heirloom quickly takes you back memory lane. Welcome to the world of Margaret Murray-Bruce.
Her gait reflects the agility of a woman in her 70s as she emerges from her room. No visible inhibition of old age. She appeared youthful, agile, classy and cosmopolitan. Born on October 26, 1926, the elderly Murray-Bruce would be 95 this year.
“I don’t feel anything; I just take one day at a time,” she said of her new age.
“I feel blessed. Right from my younger days, I have embraced simplicity. Besides living a simple life, I have also learnt to take things as you see them, take each day as it comes, and don’t quarrel with anybody. Help people if you can, mind your own business and enjoy your life. So turning 95 for me is by the grace of God.”
The last of three children of her parents, Murray-Bruce is a product of an Englishman, James Lee from Britain and Bessy Lee, a native of Bayelsa State. Recalling the circumstances surrounding her birth, she revealed how the little Margaret was born on a ship.
“My mother was going to have her baby in Akassa, Bayelsa State, but she didn’t get to Port Harcourt before she had me on the Atlantic Ocean, on the ship. However, I grew up in Lagos.”
The matriarch of the Murray-Bruce family had a privileged beginning having been born into wealth. Her British father was an engineer with the Nigerian Marine who in those days helped to man the Nigerian waterways, while her mother was a full-time housewife, looking after all her children. Her family later moved to Lagos. Murray-Bruce remembers the ‘Lagos of old’ with nostalgia. She said it was a colonial era where everywhere was peaceful and calm.
“Lagos was a very nice, peaceful place. I lived in Ikoyi and schooled in St. Mary’s Convent. I had a wonderful Catholic life in the Convent. Growing up in Lagos was beautiful. I used to go to Bar Beach from school. At that time, where you know now as Victoria Island was a thick bush. We used to walk through the bushes barefoot. We had picnics at Bar Beach, and it was fun,’’ she recounted with a hint of glee.
After her early education at the Convent School, Murray-Bruce was married off as a bride-child to her husband, William Murray-Bruce at age 16 and had her first child at age 18. At that time, it was a common practice and she felt lucky to have been matched with the right man.
“I enjoyed the marriage and we were blessed with successful children. My husband used to work at the UAC, and most of my children were born in different cities. Lagos, Enugu, Sapele, Calabar, Warri, Ilorin, almost every part of Nigeria. Every two years, a child was born. They were very nice children. I had no problem raising them. I had a good time with them as they were growing up. The good thing was that my husband was the one working and I was always at home doing nothing else but raising them. I later trained as a seamstress and used the proceeds from my trade to support my family. And see how beautiful they all turned out to be. And all of the children are all grown now and doing well in their various endeavours,” she said.
Perhaps, the children inherited the entrepreneurial skills from their father who later owned Domino Stores, a departmental store. She recalled too that those early years were marked by recreation and peace where everyone had a good life without a nagging need to feel superior to the other.
“Nothing special about anybody. We were equal. Nobody was considered wealthy or poor, we were living averagely, even though my family was very wealthy. I loved the Nigeria of old. We had no fear. Everybody was comfortable. There was no fear of insecurity or anything. In the colonial era, we drank water from the tap, and we didn’t fall sick. No mosquitoes, no beggars, people looked out for one another. We were like brothers. The northerners, Igbos and Yorubas co-habited peacefully in the same compound like families. That’s how life was then. Now you have to raise fence. You don’t feel safe or comfortable anywhere. Today, I don’t like what I see. People are suffering. Things are not the same anymore like they used to be. People even fear their own shadow today. This is disheartening.”
While lamenting the woes that have befallen Nigeria as a nation, she blamed it on the change in the value system.
“The values we had before are no longer there. We no longer have our priorities in the right order. We don’t care about education. We now have a lot of get-rich-quick, greed and people are no longer content with what they have and live within their means. In those days, people were very contented with the little they had, but not anymore.”
How does she think we can go back to the basics as a nation?
“Everybody has to be born again. Our leaders and all Nigerians have to give their lives to Christ and let the fear of God live in them. As our father would say, ‘go straight, you will never go wrong’. This is the only way. People should do what is right.”
Murray-Bruce may be operating behind the scenes, but the accomplishments of her offspring resonate through Nigeria and across the globe. For instance, the Silverbird Cinemas rebirthed the interest in cinema culture in Nigeria. Her sons, Ben and Guy have built a good image for Nigeria and Nigerians on the global map through their different exploits in beauty, entertainment and politics.
As a mother, Murray-Bruce feels very proud of her children.
“I feel proud of my children. It wasn’t an overnight success. I paid attention to my children. I was always there for them. I wasn’t the kind of person that goes about visiting friends or neighbours. I only lived for my children. It pays a lot when you pay attention to your children. That way, you know their problems and how you can help them, guide them and even with their friends. I nurtured them well, and that is it for me in a nutshell,’’ she narrated.
She shattered the stereotypical view of stay-at-home mothers with her free spirit. Being devoted to her home shouldn’t mean living a boring, lacklustre life as she would later reveal.
“When my children entered into entertainment, my husband was around, and he supported them. Somehow in the family, we love entertainment. My husband was fun-loving, and most weekends when he was free, we would listen to music and dance with the children. So, we all loved music. My husband, being a businessman as well, supported the children and their passion for entertainment. And I, as their mother, got used to it as well.
The late-night shows, the late-night movements – I got used to them all and just supported them the best way I could. There was a time two of my children had a nightclub, but I wasn’t bothered. I even got involved at a time. This was when they had these new artistes coming in. I welcomed them into my home and even cooked for them throughout their stay. I have always supported my children.”
To be a successful wife, a committed homemaker and a supportive mother, in her view requires commitment and the wisdom to shun harmful sentiments.
“It is simple. People should let go of certain things when it comes to family affairs,” she continued. “They should always be there for their children. They should be there to guide them, nurture them, and correct them when they go wrong. They should learn and realise that the home comes first. I was forced to attend a social event once by the Reverend Father. I attended because of him. I got home by 10pm. While I was there with them at the event, I kept thinking about the home and the children; have they had their dinner? Were they alright? How was their father? Did they look after him? This was in 1964. That was the first and the last time you would find me in any social activities.”
Not given to frivolities, she was absent from parties that would affect the time she had to be with her children.
Today, the matriarch of the Murray-Bruce family whose command of English can give a contemporary broadcaster a run for her money keeps abreast of global development. Her daily routine includes reading the newspapers and listening to the news.
“I’m very current about happenings around the world and Nigeria. If I were to return to school, I might end up being a journalist.”
Murray-Bruce is a rare breed. At her age, she moves around unaided, which makes one wonder if there is a secret to her longevity.
“As said earlier, simple life. I’m not into any society. I’m a stay-at-home mum who is always there for the children. The children go to school, I welcome them back when they return home. I had a good time with them without any problems. I think that’s the secret for me.
“I also eat healthy. I eat fresh foods every day. I eat a lot of vegetables and fruits. Apart from arthritis which is normal for my age, I don’t suffer any illnesses. My mother died around 1994, or thereabout. In those days, there wasn’t a proper recording of ages. But my father died in 1996, he was 81. My husband also died around the same year. In a way, longevity runs in the family.”
Often, she travels outside the country to see her children. Homely and bubbly, Murray-Bruce often prays for God’s protection on her offspring. Although very religious, she had decidedly kept the church at bay upon the outbreak of COVID-19.
To maintain that stunning look at 95, her beauty routines include baby products such as baby oil, baby lotion, and all baby-friendly products. After prayers, she keeps her breakfast light with a simple English breakfast, such as egg, sausage, a slice of tomatoes, cereal, pap or oat. For lunch, she likes vegetable soup and carbohydrates; baked plantain, not fried with lots of fruits.
Graceful and grateful, she is not afraid of death as reflected in how she acknowledged the eventuality of death.
“Death?” she asked rhetorically. “I am not afraid of death. I know it can come anytime, any day. I am very religious and I have lived well with my Maker. And if it comes today, I know I am going straight to heaven.”
Despite being a child of the colonial era and having witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly of a nation called Nigeria, Murray-Bruce is not discouraged. She still believes in the Nigeria of her dreams.
“I love my country. I don’t mind coming back to Nigeria if there were to be another world. We still have a lot of kind-hearted Nigerians who still care about humanity and want good for everybody. I have hope in this country. Even if I go to the US or England, I still love to return here. For me, Nigeria is home.’’