Okeke loses long battle with cancer

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 8, 2002

Well-known Selma educator Gayla Edwards Okeke died Saturday at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital.

The 53-year-old woman was diagnosed with breast cancer on Oct. 17 of last year, and had maintained her position as assistant principal at Selma High School until a week before her death.

A native of Flint, Mich., Okeke earned her bachelor’s degree and master’s of science degrees at West Michigan University, received an Ed.S. from the University of Alabama and her certification of principalship at UAB.

At the time of her death, she was preparing to start work on her Ph.D. dissertation.

A memorial service will be held in her honor at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the gymnasium at Selma High, where she had been a faculty member since 1989. Throughout her tenure at the school, Okeke taught honors and advanced placement English and journalism. She was the adviser to the school newspaper, the National Honors Society and other student organizations.

She was married on Aug. 26, 1972, in Flint to Selma physician Dr. Ernest I. Okeke and began her teaching career that same year.

The couple’s four daughters echoed their father’s words, saying, &uot;Our mother was a blessing that we shared with the entire city.&uot;

The Okekes made Selma their home 20 years ago.

Mrs. Okeke’s first educational position was Title One reading instructor at East End and Meadowview elementary. She also found time to engage in civic and fraternal organizations, joining Jack and Jill of America, and taking an active role in Alpha Kappa Alpha International Sorority and the Alabama Educational Association.

In 2001, Mrs. Okeke was inducted into Kappa Delta Pi, an honor society at UA.

Dale Bryant, counselor at Selma High, recalled the personality everyone fell in love with. &uot;She challenged all her students and herself. Failure was not an excuse for her,&uot; Bryant said.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by four daughters Iheoma (Terrance) Okeke-Banks, Ngozi Okeke, Chinwe Okeke, Ijeoma Okeke; one son, Obasi Okeke; one granddaughter, Kira Amaka Banks; three sisters, Synthia Edwards of Pine Bluff, Ark.; Karen Barbee of Flint, Mich., Christine Edwards of Atlanta; one brother, William (Bill) Conley of Flint; and aunt and uncle, Rose and Will Edwards.