Ghana, a nation mourns a matriarch
Theresa Aba Kufuor, the modest and gracious First Lady, dies at 87.
The self-effacing and courtly wife of the second president of Ghana’s Fourth Republic, who kept her distance from the maelstrom of politics but had been a quiet, behind-the-scenes cheerleader of her husband, died last month in a Kufuor family home on the Akwapim Ridge near Accra.
Mr John Kufuor had been a major political actor in the nation's politics going back to the Second Republic in 1969.
In a political career spanning about 40 years, Mr Kufuor served twice as MP, deputy foreign minister, and in the early 1980s, served briefly as secretary (minister) of local government, before his history-making victory in the 2000 presidential election.
But Mrs Kufuor’s lukewarm, standoffish attitude towards politics over the years led many to suggest that she was probably apolitical, and therefore, did not approve of her husband’s political pursuits.
“That was never the case, she was always my backbone not only in politics but in my other endeavours.
She was just the type who preferred to stay in the background and keep things to herself,” Mr Kufuor told me in a recent telephone conversation.
Time proved that Mrs Kufuor was just a reserved and reticent person who was not given to seeking public space and exposure.
It was so obvious that even the exalted, lofty office of first lady could not alter her low-key lifestyle making her time as first lady a diametric opposite of the glitz and glamour of the predecessor Rawlings’s years.
As first lady, she presented herself essentially as a mother.
And, indeed, most of the nation loved and revered her modest and motherly disposition as a welcome break from the old regime.
It was not surprising at all that her one-week observance at the Kufuors’ Peduase home turned into a huge public, bi-partisan fiesta.
“We all considered her our mother and she was truly a mother of this nation,” said former President John Mahama who, together with his wife, Lordina, led a large delegation of the NDC to the one-week gathering.
A big part of Mrs Kufuor's time and energy as first lady was spent advocating for women and children through her non-profit, Mother and Child Community Development Foundation (MCCDF), which concentrated primarily on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.
A nurse and midwife by profession, the humanitarian efforts of her MCCDF's uplifting the vulnerable and overlooked in society was actually a culmination of the many years that she worked and volunteered in hospitals in the United Kingdom and Ghana, particularly at the University Hospital in Kumasi and Cocoa Clinic in Accra, where she was a nursing officer.
Being a deep-felt Catholic, Mrs Kufuor's advocacy and work caught the attention of the Holy Seat, prompting Pope Benedict XVl to bestow on her the prestigious Papal Award Dame of St Gregory the Great in 2007.
Accolades and citations also came to her from local secular organisations such as the Ghana AIDS Commission, Ghana Registered Midwives Association, Ghana Women of Excellence Award, and Ghana Journalists Association.
Born Theresa Mensah on October 25, 1935, in Kumasi, Mrs Kufuor was the daughter of Rose Mensah of Odumasi near Sunyani, and Joseph Henry Mensah Snr, a Fanti gentleman and Catholic devotee, who was the clerk of the British colonial commissioner in Ashanti.
She was the seventh of her parents’ 10 children, which included J.H. Mensah, the economist and politician who was senior minister in Kufuor’s government.
Mrs Kufuor was first trained at the Catholic Convent, OLA, at Keta in the Volta Region, before leaving to pursue nursing and midwifery in Scotland and England.
It was during an internship at Oxford University Hospital in the early 1960s that she and Mr Kufuor met.
Mr Kufuor was then an undergraduate student at Oxford, studying philosophy, politics and economics.
Theresa and John married in England in 1962.
They have five children, three boys and two girls, all of whom survived her.
She is also survived by her husband, Mr Kufuor, more than half a dozen grandchildren, a sister, and many nephews and nieces including Ambassador D.K. Osei (Deekay) and the journalist Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.