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19.02.2006 General News

Tribute for Peggy Appiah

By Kwabena Sarpong Akosah, New York.

Adieu, Maa Peggy! 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 the English literary icon, Mrs Peggy Appiah, to me.

As Ivor, who is also a director at Center for Intellectual Renewal in Kumasi, was breaking 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 2003 BBC interview with her, 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 of her come to pass, Mrs Appiah bought the adjoining land to her husband's grave.

It's my prayer Peggy's land is still lying untouched. I'm concerned because in today's Ghana where the twin ills of greed and selfishness and sometimes sheer mischief are gobbling up all sorts of land property, one cannot be too sure of the fate of even a little piece of land 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 Peggy and Joe house at African Bungalow, the tiny bucolic vicinity whose denizens were a mix some boldfaced names in Asante intellectual and political class as well as Indian and Lebanese families.

Even one of Joe Appiah's young paternal relations, Frank Appiah, was a primary school classmate. Very tasty bread baked by Frank's family and a recreational park at African bungalow called Joe Park (I don't know if the park was named after Peggy's husband) made invitation from Frank, whose house was right opposite that of Peggy and Joe, irresistible.

At the time, Mrs Appiah was a common sight. But as little school children we could not cultivate any relationship with her.

Despite hearing about Peggy, and more so, seeing her so closely, all those years, my personal, intimate contact with her began only in 1999, when I was reviewing her husband's memoir - AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN AFRICAN PATRIOT - as part of the fulfillment of my bachelor's degree at KNUST.

Mrs Appiah was overwhelmingly struck by my interest in her husband and his work. She always moaned that my project was being done at the wrong time in her life, a time her memory was steadily failing, and that what she was going to do for me was to give me an unfettered access to her family library.

And indeed, Mrs Appiah kept her word and opened up the family library at her palatial home in Kumasi's rarefied neighborhood of Ridge throughout the duration of my research. For the many times that I visited Peggy, she served me tea and biscuit, and sometimes invited me to join her in her swimming pool. She chuckled whenever she heard my usual response to her swimming invitation “Maa, I'm a king of the bush not water.”

Thank you, Maa Peggy! God richly bless your soul for the time and treasure you expended me and others you extended your generosity.

Peggy came to Kumasi living largely in the shadow of her famous lawyer and politician husband, Joe Appiah. But by the time I came of age in the 1980s, Mrs Appiah literary works coupled with a preternatural bent for communal and philanthropic causes had gained her own personal in Kumasi, no longer needing any reference to Joe Appiah.

For over half a century, this elegant English lady (Peggy's father was Sir Stafford Cripps, Chancellor of Exchequer in Clement Attlee's post-World War II government in Britain, 1945-1951) did forgo the cushy confines of high-born life in England and lived with us in Kumasi, a place she proudly and joyously called home.

At some point in the late1980s and again in the 1990s when a lot of prominent people and businesses in Kumasi were re-locating in Accra, deriding Kumasi as not intellectually fascinating and commercially viable, Peggy never turned her back on Kumasi. Rather it was at the peak of 'Accra migration' (it hasn't stop though) that Peggy put up iconic building at Ridge, where she spent the last decade of her inspiring life, which spanned nearly 85 years. By staying put in Kumasi, Peggy gave the city a vote of confidence and credibility!

The most fitting honor - Kumasi can give to this self-effacing - but extraordinary English woman - would be to turn out in force at her funeral ground.

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