End of an era
In July 2019, the then 94-year-old Dr Letitia Obeng, Ghana’s first female scientist, launched her Anthology of a Lifetime.
I described her then as a living legend.
The nonagenarian had chalked up many firsts.
She was the first female science graduate of Ghana.
She was the first Ghanaian female to obtain a doctorate in science.
She was the first female President of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences.
She was the founding Director of the Institute of Aquatic Biology.
She was also an established author.
An impressive gathering of scientists, people in academia, family and friends was at the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences to witness the launch of her Anthology of a Life Time.
The anthology is a collection of her thoughts, speeches and papers covering more than 60 years and also a wide range of subjects.
She was passionate (that is an understatement) about parasites, water and the environment and this passion comes out in the anthology.
At 94, Dr Letitia Obeng was still going strong and did not need reading glasses.
Dr Letitia Obeng hailed from Anum in the Eastern Region of Ghana.
She obtained her PhD from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the early 1960s, where she studied the black fly and its relevance to river blindness.
In October 2018, when she was 93 years old, I met her at the funeral service of Mr L. J. Chinery-Hesse at the Accra Ridge Church and we had a good chat at the end of the service.
Dr Letitia Obeng looked hale and hearty.
I requested for, and was granted, an appointment with Dr Letitia Obeng. I wanted to hear more from her.
The much-anticipated meeting took place at her residence. And what a meeting it was. In the event, I spent almost two hours with this remarkable person, while doing a lot of listening.
This is someone I had admired from a distance since my secondary school days when she came into prominence as the first Ghanaian woman to earn a doctorate degree in science. Her son, Ernest, was my junior at Achimota and we were in Cadbury House.
My mother also used to refer to her and her elder sister Theodosia in the context of their days at the Agogo Basel Mission School and College.
She spoke about her childhood days.
In particular, she mentioned Effiduase Ashanti where her father (later to become a Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana) was a teacher/catechist.
They spent about 10 happy years there, she told me.
A time of carefree happiness. She told me how she, her siblings and other young ones used to fetch water from the stream each morning, and how they used to enjoy filling the water barrels with water.
The water was so fresh and clean. Pristine! A far cry from what we are witnessing today.
Dr Letitia Obeng was passionate about our fresh water bodies. She did not hide her dismay with the way we seem to have neglected our fresh water bodies, as a nation.
We are fast losing these precious water sources through neglect, degradation and sheer abuse, she lamented.
Her passing marks the end of an era in Ghana, with special reference to how she broke through the glass ceiling, as it were, to become a trailblazer in science education for the girl-child in Ghana. She has left her mark.
My prayer is that we shall use this period to reflect on her unceasing cries in the wilderness about the dangers of galamsey to our water bodies and take concrete steps to restore the wholesomeness of our water sources for the sake of our grandchildren and those unborn.
Kofi Otutu Adu Labi is a lawyer, author.