Born in Nigeria in 1939, Felix Iroanyah has followed his passion for education across the globe. Since settling in Toronto in the early 1970s, his love for learning and for his family has never wavered.
Felix Iroanyah left his home in Nigeria for England when he was 19 to attend school. While there, he achieved a PhD in economics and philosophy. He moved to the U.S. in the late 1960s to work at Columbia University before moving to Toronto in 1971. He sent for his fiancée, Adanma, to come to Canada from Nigeria in 1972, and the couple married a year later. They had three children, Chuck, Azu and Ngozi. In 1985, the tight-knit family moved to Mississauga. Together, they spent their days working and laughing together, even in the face of hardship.
After working for the Ontario government and then starting his own business, Felix took a job in cabin services at Air Canada, where he stayed until he retired in 2006.
Felix’s passion for education is shared by his family. Ngozi is currently finishing her PhD in health policy and equity studies at York University, and, at 57 years old, Adanma graduated with a bachelor of theology in June 2000. Unfortunately, she passed away suddenly that December, and Felix slowly began to act a little differently. Following an assessment in 2008, he was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease.
“It was a sombre moment for the family,” says Ngozi. “It continues to be difficult to see him struggle with it.”
While Ngozi says it remains difficult to see her father struggle, she sees he’s found happiness in his own way.
Today, Felix is living with advanced Alzheimer’s, and can often be found with a smile on his face. Always laughing and offering high fives, he lives in his Mississauga home with his new wife and his son, Azu. He loves walking, going for drives in the car and interacting with friends at the Alzheimer Society’s day program he attends.
“Dementia is different for everyone … and, even with dementia, there are beautiful moments I have with my father,” says Ngozi. She recalls taking Felix and her stepmother out for a Father’s Day dinner after graduating from her master’s program. When they first sat down, Felix seemed off in his own world, but as soon as she told him that she had graduated, his focused on her.
“His eyes shifted, it was like the cloudiness cleared for a moment, and he looked at me and said ‘congratulations,’ and then he was gone again,” she says.
For Ngozi, these small connections are meaningful.
“It’s about knowing that it’s not all sad. The moments when I rest my head on his lap and he strokes my hair, or when I look at him and his eyes soften and he smiles at me, are beautiful. Those are the moments that still warm my heart. There are still so many beautiful moments you can have with people living with dementia.” [ ]