Theophilus Ogunlesi was born on July 12, 1923, in Sagamu, Ogun State, to a blacksmith. He attended St Paul Primary School in Sagamu from 1931 to 1935, and then CMS Grammar School in Lagos from 1936 to 1940. Between 1941 and 1942, he attended Higher College in Yaba.
He was motivated for the medical profession by R.L Oluwole, a son of Bishop Oluwole, who nominated him for a scholarship following his program at the Yaba Higher College in 1942, according to Sagamu Club, a socio-cultural organisation in Ogun State.
In 1947, Ogunlesi enrolled at the Yaba Medical School to pursue a career in medicine. In 1953, he travelled to the University of London to upgrade his medical qualification, which he had received in Nigeria, and later qualified as a medical officer in Britain who was registered in England.
In 1965, four years after entering the University of Ibadan’s school of medicine, the nonagenarian physician was awarded a medicine professorship.
When Ibadan was to host an extension of the University College of London in 1948, he followed in the footsteps of pioneer professor Alexander Brown and three other British academics.
Ogunlesi’s rise to professorship followed an illustrious career as an assistant medical officer in the Nigeria Medical Department (1947-48) and a medical officer in the Western Nigeria Civil Service (WNC) from 1950 to 1956.
He stopped lecturing at the age of 60 in 1983.
Professor Ogunlesi described his experience as Nigeria’s first professor of medicine in an interview with an online publication published on January 18, 2017.
In 1965, I was appointed as a professor at the University of Ibadan. I started at the university in 1961 and became a professor four years later. I became a senior lecturer the following year since I was already a civil service specialist.
I began my career at a time when Ibadan (UI) was mostly staffed by expatriate instructors. So I was one of the first Nigerian medical lecturers. That is why, at the University of Ibadan, I became the first Nigerian Professor of Medicine,” he explained.