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Opinions of Sunday, 19 February 2006

Columnist: Akosah, Kwabena Sarpong

Tribute for Peggy Appiah

Adieu, Maa Peggy!

Peggy Appiah, A Landmark Has Been Razed Down.

By Kwabena Sarpong Akosah, New York.

It was my good friend and colleague, Ivor Agyeman-Duah of Ghana High Commission in the United Kingdom, who phoned from London and broke the news of the death of British literary icon, Mrs Peggy Appiah, to me.

After Ivor, who is also a director at Center for Intellectual Renewal in Kumasi, had broken the sad news, what I said to myself was that - Peggy?s ultimate moment - had arrived; the moment she had waited since 1990 to be buried beside Joe (as she called her husband, Mr Joseph Emmanuel Appiah better known as Joe Appiah), the barrister, politician, lay preacher, orator and prolific writer, who died 15 years ago and whose remains are entombed at Old Tafo Cemetery in Kumasi.

One of Peggy?s utmost life wishes, she told me during a BBC interview in 2003, was to be interred not just in Kumasi, but right next to her husband?s tombstone at Tafo. And to ensure that this treasured wish come to pass, Mrs Appiah paid for land that adjoins her beloved Joe?s grave.

It?s my prayer Peggy?s land lies untouched. I?m concerned because in today?s Ghana where the twin ills of greed and selfishness and sometimes pure mischief are gobbling up all sorts of land property, one cannot be too sure of the fate of even a little piece of plot earmarked for burial purposes.

I heard about Peggy Appiah when I was growing up at Ashanti New Town in Kumasi in the early 1970s. Both my house and my school (St Joseph?s Experimental) was half a walking distance to Mr Joe Appiah?s residence at African Bungalow, the tiny bucolic vicinity whose denizens those days were - a mix of some boldface names in Ghana politics ? and Indian and Lebanese businesspeople

Even one of Joe Appiah?s young paternal relations, Frank Appiah, was a primary school classmate. Frank?s grandmother baked and sold great bread. So prospects of getting a bite of tasty loaf and a recreational park at African Bungalow called Joe Park (I don?t know if the park was named after Joe Appiah) made invitation from Frank, whose house was right opposite Joe Appiah?s house, irresistible.

Peggy was a common sight. But as little school children we could not cultivate any relationship with her.

As a kid, I saw Peggy quite regularly. And years later, when I was intern at Pioneer, I exchanged greetings with her on few occasions when she came round to pick up her copy of the paper.

But it was only in 1999 when I was reviewing Joe Appiah?s memoir, Autobiography of an African Patriot, as part of the fulfillment of bachelor?s program at KNUST that I had serious personal, intimate contact with Peggy. She was struck by my interest in her husband?s life history. Her memory was fast failing then and she always moaned that she could not help with any oral histories.

But she did one very useful thing for me: unhindered access to a trove of literature at her palatial home in Kumasi?s upscale Ridge neighborhood; on some of my visits, she served me tea and biscuit; and there were times she invited me to join her in her swimming pool; she always chuckled when she heard my response to the swimming invitation ?Maa, I?m a bush boy and not a water boy.?

Peggy came to Kumasi living largely in the shadow of her famous husband. But by the time I came of age in the 1980s, her research and writings on Asante lore coupled with a preternatural bent for communal and philanthropic causes had gained Peggy her own personal standing in Kumasi, no longer needing any reference to Joe Appiah. For over half a century, this elegant, high-born English lady whose maiden name was Peggy Cripps (her father was Sir Stafford Cripps, chancellor of exchequer in Attlee?s immediate post-World War II government in Britain) proudly and joyously made Kumasi her home. At some point in the 1980s, and again in the 1990s, when a lot of prominent people and businesses in Kumasi were re-locating to Accra, deriding Kumasi as intellectually depraved and commercially unattractive, Peggy never turned her back on the city.

Rather it was at the peak of this ?Accra migration? (it hasn?t stopped though, thanks to sustained over-concentration of economic activity in the capital) that Peggy put up the Ridge architectural masterpiece, the place she spent the last decade of her life. By staying put in Kumasi, she gave the city a vote of confidence and credibility. Peggy was an enduring local fixture. For me, her death at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital on February 11th, 2006, at the age of 84, was like razing down a monument in Kumasi.

This self-effacing but - remarkable woman - deserves a memorial; a fitting memorial. It is an issue that should exercise the bigger Kumasi community. Da yie, Maa Peggy!