My senior brother has died, and his wife says he has gone to heaven! Tribute to Thomas Sawyerr Esq.

Thomas Sawyerr Tribute

My senior brother has died, and his wife says he has gone to heaven!

Tunc meus maximus frater turris forti mihi fuit atque nimis ei fortitudine gentes confisi essemus. Nunc abiit.  Itaque eius uxor me adfert ut ad caelum pervenisset. Utinam animus in magna et aeterna pace requiescat.

Growing up, I thought that my eldest brother Tom and Cousin Bibi Mould were the coolest people around. I hang on their every word. I do not know whether it was because they were the tallest people around or because I learnt so much from them as a precocious questioning child. With Cousin Bibi it was about his teaching me how to tell the time at a very early age and with my brother Tom, the fascination was about his teaching me everything else and to top it all, also about the fact that he owned a bicycle at a time when very few people owned bicycles. Most people who wanted to ride a bike, went to Ajimbola outside the house and of course that experience was forbidden to most of us. He rode the bicycle to school every morning and he took great care of it, really good care and I used to sit down, and watch fascinated as he washed it, cleaned it, oiled it and put it away carefully.

As I grew other, I started sharing the same bowl with him because our other brother Bela, preferred aboloo to our staple kenkey. It was from Tom that I had to learn the art of eating with an older person and making sure that you took your turn with the meat. Then he left Jamestown and went to Dodowa with our father, and I had to stay behind in Accra because of my schooling. By the time we met again at Accra New Town, he was now much taller than our father and compared to me still a small boy, he was really a big man. The relationship was much closer now but there were several more things in the mix. He had acquired the discipline of adjustment having stayed with several uncles in Sekondi and in Teshie where they – he and Bela, had run away so to speak, from the discipline of Ataa Nii at Krobo into the fire of Papa Akwetey Lokko at Osu RE. He who gave us castor oil every Saturday without fail to purge us.

Well, there are many more stories of childhood growing up, but Tom was a brother whom I looked up to at all times. I was still in primary school when he started working and he played a crucial part in the effort to get me into secondary school. Mr Victor Amaning also played a role as a tutor, but it was Tom who paid for my extra classes to get me into shape – he had landed a job at Ghana Broadcasting Corporation courtesy of late Aunty Sussie Laryea. I suspect that it was something to do with the account’s office.

From him I had to learn all the Latin aphorisms that were mottos for our secondary schools and their meanings in English and this was before I went to secondary school. Then he went on to sixth form to become a Latin Scholar of all things, serious stuff of discussing ‘unseen’ with our father whilst I listened totally clueless but looking forward to my time of knowing – tolo, tolere, sustili, subilatum. 

He went on to work at the Electricity Corporation of Ghana, again courtesy of an Uncle Sowah and then the focus all changed from Latin to Institute of Cost and Works Accounting or something like that. Somewhere along the line he had fancied going into the army, so we had to go morning trotting from Lagos Town to Kotobabi as he prepared for the life of a soldier. Somehow, he never made it.

I do not know whether the regime was too much for him, but accounting won over Latin. He came to the School of Administration, which was very convenient for me because it was on what is now the western compound of Achimota School. I got to meet all his friends, La Mantse, Nungua Mantse, Mr Fliescher, Mr Nortey and Mr John Teye who set up the famous school John Teye Memorial School and whose books on management I inherited when I went into the first year. I in turn passed on my books to his son Otuteye when I left. I timed my visits to the Western Compound to coincide with the time when they were having their afternoon tea, with scones and all the other trumperies – maybe that was why I wanted to attend the same school.

Tom was always about teaching me, so I remember that even when he came to England and I was a first-year student studying accounting, his letters to me were always about the theoretical principles of accounting, issues about conservatism and consistency, reliability and prudence, relevance and accuracy, and substance over form – all principles that he lived by in his own life.

He also knew the value of sacrifice – ‘suffer to gain’ was the mantra that he shared with our cousin Zeus as they debated the things that they needed to forgo in order to forge ahead in life and their life of frugality. I never did get on their wrong side when they worked as a team whilst I worked out my quirks as a young teenager blooming into adulthood. They treated me well and helped to inculcate in me the art of speaking my mind and articulating my views freely even when I was wrong. What started as a daily discussion of the 7 o’clock evening news under our father’s tutelage, asking us to debate the day’s highlights proved to be an invaluable asset in helping me build my confidence. Timid I was because I was not sure whether what I said made sense, but he would ask that I though the youngest and the smallest amongst the pack should also be heard.

My brother loved a good argument on any subject under the earth and he had trained me so well that we debated every subject on the land trying to solve all the problems of the earth, political problems in Britain and economic problems in Ghana. Those long inconclusive discussions were always adjourned to be continued at another time. I asked him questions about the family and the fact that he had left Ghana too early to take on the mantle of leading the next generation back home, though he did so admirably well in doing so in England.

In one of our last conversations, he told me how proud he was of me – a great honour for me when I reminded him that some 40 years or so ago when I had been hospitalised, it was he who bought me my first set of crutches that started me on the path of learning to walk again. I encouraged him and told him that there was no reason when he would not recover from his illness. I was very sorry to hear of his passing and I regret not having the courage to visit him because I have been shielding for the past year in a Covid bubble of my own. We never had the opportunity to dissect Covid-19 much in the same way that we had done with Brexit and he had encouraged me to write on the issues.

Tom, my brother nurtured me, he encouraged me to explore the issues about culture and identity when I got involved in my Gadangme issues. He honoured all invitations from the GaDangme Nikasemo Asafo to their annual Homowo festival celebrations. He told me that he was proud to be our Honorary Treasurer and also that he wished he could have played a fuller part in its operation. Indeed, Tom never missed any event relating to the Ghanaian community or to the family.

A well rounded person, honest and forthright’ strict in maintaining discipline and very much an advocate of the truth and yet circumspect in his pronouncements but ever willing to help at all times – that was Tom, a supporter, teacher and explainer.

Once, my brother was my pillar of strength and we, a family, relied on his strength very much. Now he has passed away. And so, his wife brings word to me that he has arrived in heaven. May his soul rest in great and eternal peace.

 Bra Abayomi, Tsulɔ kpakpa, Tsɔɔlɔ kpakpa, yaa wɔ ojogbaŋŋ yɛ oNuntsɔ lɛ mli

Mi, AD

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