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Biography of Theresa Aba Kufuor

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The family settled in a large house in the Adum business district of Kumasi. They spoke Fante at home and were devout Catholics. The family was close-knit, so she grew up supported and surrounded by love.

Theresa started her primary schooling at St Benedict’s and continued at Our Lady of Apostles (OLA) girls’ boarding school in the Volta Region. During the holidays, she and some of her siblings would visit their eldest sister, Grace Quist-Arcton, a senior educationist who lived in Tamale with her husband, Edward A Quist-Arcton.

Theresa had an ear for languages and learned Ewe and Hausa, in addition to the Twi, Fante and English that she spoke flawlessly. After Standard 7, she declined to complete the forms that would have allowed her to continue her education at OLA. She stuck to her decision even though her eldest brother, J H Mensah Jnr (aka Brother Abew), to whom she was close, encouraged her to pursue academic study.

Theresa chose instead to work at Komfo Anokye Hospital as a staff nurse. She started this job without her father’s knowledge but he offered her his support when he realised how determined she was. Paapa decided that JH Jnr should help Theresa enrol in a nurse’s training course in Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. Brother Abew helped his sister with all the forms, including her passport application. The passport arrived late, when the nursing course had already started, and her brother noticed officials had made an error with her date of birth. He pointed it out but Aba refused to delay her trip further and the mistake became her official date of birth.

Between 1958 and 1961 she trained as a registered general nurse at the Edinburgh Southern Hospitals School of Nursing. Life in Edinburgh was good despite the weather. Theresa enjoyed the social life and made some good friends. One of her friends, Emma Bentil, became her sister-in-law when she married Dr Peter Mensah (now deceased), who was a sibling.

In 1962 Theresa completed her Midwifery (Part I) at the Nuffield Maternity Home in Oxford, followed by Part II at Paddington General Hospital on the Harrow Road in London, now known as St Mary’s Paddington. She also undertook a course in premature baby nursing in 1963 and obtained a certificate in advanced nursing administration from the Royal College of Nursing in 1980.

Before continuing her studies in Oxford, she attended a Republic Day dance in London with a friend.

Unknown to her, a young man who had recently been called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn was also going to the dance. Coincidentally, he was planning to move on to Exeter College, Oxford, to further his studies, and had been advised by a friend to take a good look at Miss Theresa.

John Agyekum Kufuor had set his heart on working in the public service and he wanted to find a Ghanaian woman to support him in that career. He asked to change partners on the dance floor and introduced himself to Theresa. They became friends. They later saw each other in Oxford and renewed their acquaintance.

The following year, during a trip to Ghana to register for the Ghana Bar, John Kufuor told his mother about his friendship with Aba. His mother knew of the Mensah family, so she told him to take a bottle of schnapps to Okyeso, the Mensah family home, by way of an introduction. John was accompanied by a relative. At Okyeso, they saw Maame and her senior brother, Master Buahin, who recognised John from his time at Government Boys’ School. J H Mensah Snr (aka Paapa) was cordial and accepted the bottle of schnapps, but unfortunately he died within a couple of weeks.

The heartbroken Theresa could not attend her father’s funeral. However, John Agyekum Kufuor and his family were there.

The couple decided to get engaged and were married at the Brompton Oratory in Knightsbridge, London, on 8 September 1962. Theresa was sad that her father would not be walking her down the aisle. However, her brother JH was in London on his way to a conference, so he assumed that role.

The newlyweds began their married life in Oxford and after they completed their studies they moved to Muswell Hill in north London. The couple had three children within three years. Their first child, John Addo Kwabo (aka Chief), was followed by Anne-Marie Nana Ama Ampomah a year later and Helen Nana Saah the year after that. By this time (1965) the family had returned to Ghana and set up home in Kumasi, and Theresa began working at Tech Hospital on the campus of the University of Science and Technology. She had many friends and worked alongside the best of her friends, Justina Osei-Bonsu.

In 1968, the couple had a fourth child, a son named Edward Kojo Agyekum.

When the Progress Party won the general election of 1969 and Theresa Kufuor’s husband became a Member of Parliament, the family moved to Accra. He was appointed a deputy minister of foreign affairs so he travelled frequently on government business. Theresa focused on supporting him, hosting dignitaries and raising her children. Her best friend, Justina, had also moved to Accra because her husband, Kwabena Gyima Osei-Bonsu, was also an MP (for Asokwa) and a minister of state.

The idyll was short-lived. On 13 January 1972 the couple awoke to news that the government of Prime Minister Kofi Abrefa Busia had been overthrown by Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, who installed the National Redemption Council.

Theresa’s husband entered detention at Ussher Fort in Accra while she was expecting her fifth child. She began to pay regular visits to her husband in prison and set about rebuilding her life with her four young children. Her brother JH was also in detention at Nsawam Prison. She drew strength from her Catholic faith as she fasted and prayed. Her strength of character and determination to do things her way helped during this period. Family and friends rallied around, with her elder sister Cecilia’s husband Mr Frimpong (aka Bench) and her mother, Maame, being among the frequent visitors to the small house in Kanda.

In June 1972, Theresa had her last child, a boy named Victor Kofi Owusu Afriyie Mensah.

She befriended some of the wardens at Ussher Fort and they would sometimes come home for a meal and to collect her husband’s laundry before their shift. Children were not allowed visits to the prison, a policy with which she disagreed. On Christmas Day, she took her children to Ussher Fort, muttering about them not being allowed to see their father. She told the older ones to stand outside by the small metal gate with bars in the wall which linked the cells to the waiting area and went inside with the baby wrapped in her cloth. Her determination paid off: Mr Kufuor saw the baby during that visit and waved to the other children as he walked, with a guard, to and from the visiting area.

Mrs Kufuor was a strict but loving mother. She taught her children to work hard, attend Mass regularly and always have faith in God. Their lives revolved around Christ the King Church and its school, which all the children attended. They were also registered as members of the Catholic Youth Organisation and the Boy Scouts or Girl Guides. She seemed to know everything that happened in her house and anyone caught breaking a rule was dealt with. She was a good storyteller who had a way with words and the house was always filled with laughter. She could whistle every family member’s name clearly, including her husband’s. She was sociable and caring and had a group of loyal friends. She was also a mother to all manner of people and the house was often full.

Her husband was released from prison after 15 months and they set about rebuilding their lives. In the middle of 1973, she began work as the first matron of the newly established Cocoa Clinic.

The Third Republic was inaugurated in 1979 and Theresa’s husband re-entered Parliament as the deputy minority leader. Family life was busy, with the children engaged in extracurricular activities while Theresa continued to work full-time and support her husband. After Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings seized power in a coup in 1981, however, life became difficult. The couple decided to send the older children to London for safety. In 1982 the eldest two left and they were followed a year later by the third. Mrs Kufuor was now supporting her family on two continents. She left Cocoa Clinic and ventured into self-employment.

In 1992 it was decided that Ghana would return to democratic rule and Theresa threw herself into supporting her husband in all his campaigning. She extended her network, attended rallies and used her local language skills to good effect. She spoke Ga fluently, too. She was at her husband’s side when he won the nomination to lead the New Patriotic Party in the 1996 presidential election and was there when he conceded defeat to President Rawlings.

He ran again in 2000 and she became the First Lady when John Kufuor was sworn in as President on 7 January 2001.

Theresa shunned the limelight but graciously accepted the responsibility of being a mother to the nation. As she was a nurse, she decided to focus on issues that had a bearing on women’s and children’s lives – the need to provide advice and vocational training opportunities for young women; community-run crèches; pre-school facilities and micro-enterprises that would lead to long-term self-sufficiency. She attended Mass at Christ the King regularly despite her busy schedule, and was often to be seen singing with the choir, which she joined in 1995.

Mrs Kufuor set up a non-governmental organisation, the Mother and Child Community Development Foundation, to assist women and children living in deprived areas. Her achievements include the establishment of development centres in underdeveloped areas of Accra such as Kotobabi and Amasaman. She facilitated the acquisition and installation of a mammogram machine for Sunyani General Hospital and sponsored training in soap-making, dress-making and shea butter processing in areas such as Kumasi, Koforidua and the then three Northern regions.

The Foundation also built and equipped a bakery in Nsawam.

She spoke tirelessly about the need to help curb the spread of HIV/Aids in Africa by setting targets for prevention, treatment, care and support. She travelled extensively, locally and internationally, with and without her husband. Theresa was a good ambassador for Ghana. She worked behind the scenes to influence government policy in areas such as free school feeding, free medical care for pregnant women and free, compulsory and universal basic education.

After her husband left office in January 2009, Theresa continued her advocacy and support work through her Foundation. She also spent more time with her children, grandchildren, extended family and friends. She visited her siblings Brother JH, Brother Peter and Sister Ama often. She attended Mass even when she was unwell, because she did not want her brother to miss seeing her at church and worry. She was proud when, in 2010, the Vatican bestowed on her the award of Papal Dame of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great.

Theresa retired from public life due to ill-health. She bore her illness bravely and with quiet dignity.

She caught a cold at the end of August 2023 and was admitted to hospital. She rallied and was discharged after a few days but she remained frail. She slipped away gracefully and peacefully at the family house in Peduase in the afternoon of 1 October 2023 with her family gathered around her.

She is survived by her husband of 61 years, John Agyekum Kufuor, one sister, all five of her children and 14 grandchildren.

Theresa Aba Kufuor

Born 25 October 1934 (officially 25 October 1935)

Died 1 October 2023

 

Source: www.ghanaweb.com

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