Melody takes her last flight

BY: Daily Graphic
 Melody Danquah

Melody Danquah was born in Larteh Akuapem on January 6, 1937 and though christened Millicent Danquah at birth, she acquired a few other names along the way: Melody; and Mary Magdalene and accordingly adopted M3 as her signature. Her father was the illustrious Court Registrar and Arbitrator, Ibinijah Rexford Addo-Danquah, aka Krakye Danquah, of Larteh. Her mother was Selina Gyamfi, whose father and uncles founded the cocoa town of Okroase. Melody was the sixth of 10 siblings given birth to by her mother. Her father was famed for having sired more than 30 children. 

Melody attended the Larteh Methodist Primary and Middle schools and the Wesley Girls’ High School at Cape Coast which she completed in 1956. Miss Garnett, her biology teacher, remembered Melody’s acting talent, portraying Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, 20 years later when her daughter, Angela, enrolled at the same high school. It must have been quite a performance! After ‘Gey Hey’, Krakye Danquah wanted her to continue her studies overseas, but at the 11th hour, Melody changed her mind and went on to teach briefly at a secondary school in Winneba before entering the Government Secretarial School in 1959, where she trained as a Stenographer Secretary. When Melody entered the Civil Service in 1960, she worked with the Director of Broadcasting; she also served with the Plebiscite Officer for the first  presidential elections in Ghana, and after that with the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government.  

Enrolment in Airforce

One day, she read an advert in the newspaper for women to enrol in the Air Force. Apparently, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of the Republic of Ghana, had asked for women to be trained as pilots. Six women showed up for the interview, including her. In the end, only three made it. She joined the Military with Ayele Kome and Joana Dickson. She was the first to fly solo, finished first in her class and her tenure of service was the longest. 

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The Retired Commissioned Air Force Officers’ Association writes of her:

“For the standard of our gallant colleague, a Pilot of the purple twilight, having braved all that the elements stood for, riding the unnatural birds through the blue sky, plunging into the cumulonimbus, nipping through the fog and haze, safely making three greens on terra firma; so may it be that we who are left behind never forget her.” 

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Towards the end of 1963, three ladies were recruited into the Ghana Air Force to be trained as Ghana’s first female pilots. They were: Melody Millicent Danquah, an ex-student of Wesley Girls’ High School; Comfort Ayele Kome, an old student of Aburi Girls’ Secondary School; and Joana Bedu Addo. Within the last week of December 1963, the stark reality of military life was communicated - No Christmas - By 30th December, all had been baptised. Flight Cadet Melody Danquah’s Flying Instructor was Flight Lieutenant Sanderson. Melody successfully made the grading and the subsequent basic military training at the Ghana Military Academy. She returned to Takoradi to commence the formal Flying Training programme, which included such exercises and manoeuvres as Aerobatics, Spins, Formation and Night Flying, albeit, she was forbidden to practise them while she flew solo. 

June 22, 1964 was a red-letter day for Flt. Cadet Danquah as she flew her first ‘solo’ in the Chipmunk aircraft, becoming the first Ghanaian, and probably, African woman ever to fly an aeroplane solo. Then came the climax; after such a success and filled with joy, she was met with a greeting with a differenc. as she approached the pilots’ crew room, she was doused with buckets of water from water cooler fridges. Drenched in her overall, not only did she detest the feel of the cold water, but the resultant clingy overall to her body brought out clearly her ‘Coca-Cola bottle shape’ (figure 8), much to her embarrassment before men - This is a ‘baptismal tradition’ of the Air Force meted out to any flyer on his/her first successful solo flight - be you an Air Officer or a Cadet! This experience was never lost on Melody in her lifetime. 

Melody learnt to fly with undoubted enthusiasm. While some got eliminated in a selective system, she pressed on and conquered the problems of human mechanical flight. She started out as a rookie and resiliently became a doyen. 

 October 24,1964 was Air Force Day organised in Takoradi. Flt Cadet Melody Danquah was the only student pilot allowed some 10 minutes of solo flying time, and what a period it was. She finished with a flawless landing to show President Nkrumah what the lady pilots were capable of doing. As expected, she received a thunderous applause from the dignitaries and all the spectators present. 

This performance was later to be duplicated at Afienya during the 1965 OAU conference held in Accra. This time Melody was co-piloted by Ayele Kome in the Beaver aircraft for similar show to African Presidents. 

On April 15,1965, Melody was presented with her ‘Wings’ as a qualified pilot with a commission into the Ghana Air Force as Pilot Officer by Mr Kofi Baako, then Minister of Defence. In June 1968, Melody ended her flying career and was transferred to the Administration Branch where she served the colours until she separated from the uniform. 

While in service, Melody, as a female pioneer, displayed industry and versatility. She approached her tasks enthusiastically and with dispatch. She was tactful when dealing with both superiors and subordinates. Those qualities not withstanding, Melody would ‘give it to you’ where she found it necessary as she was courageous and could not be cowed’. 

In 1984, Melody was honourably discharged from the Ghana Armed Forces due to ill-health and was given a Long Service award and The Efficiency Medal. Later, in 2006, she was honoured by President John Agyekum Kufuor with the Companion of the Order of the Volta in recognition of her pioneering spirit and courage. 

Life after the military was colourful; Sq. Ldr Melody Millicent Danquah worked briefly for the World Food Programme and National Service Secretariat. When she turned 60, she yearned more for the things of God and entered Bible School where she earned her Diploma in Bible Studies and Theology and preached in military circles as a lay preacher. 

She later ventured into the corporate world as a very participatory member of the Board of Directors for the rejuvenated Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) with Prof. Stephen Adei as the Rector. Unknown to many, Melody’s alias on the Alhaji Talkshow on the University of Ghana’s Radio station -Radio Univers- was Abrewa Tia! 

She was a truly compassionate woman, soldier and friend and regularly visited many sick retired officers at the 37 Military Hospital, bringing the ‘Good News’, words of comfort and her infectious humour. She lived life to the full! 

The Squadron Leader loved to talk, sing, watch TV soap operas, listen to music, read Marie Corelli, bake delicious, “perfumed cakes” and act. She enjoyed all events military: Tattoos, parades, dances and dinners, and she watched soccer and boxing with great zeal; a true Ghanaian! 

The Squadron Leader quietly took her last breath and flew off to join her Maker on Friday, March 18,2016.  She was 79 years old.

She is survived by her daughter, Professor Angela Lamensdorf Ofori-Atta, a Clinical Psychologist of the University of Ghana School of Medicine & Dentistry, who is married to Mr Ken Ofori-Atta, co-founder of Databank Financial Services Ltd. Her grandchildren are Katakyie, Ohemaa and Nana Yirenkyi, who was named after her.