As a fresh alumna of Oxford University, the late Mrs Clarice Howorth (Miss Garnett), came to Ghana in the 1950s and contributed her quota to the laying of a solid foundation for her own little Oxford for young girls - Wesley Girls High School.
Pegged on that Kakum hill near Cape Coast, it was at Wesley Girls High School that Garnie, as we affectionately called her, made her home for 31 years after she first set foot on the soil of the Gold Coast as a Methodist missionary. She cherished the school and the girls loved her in return. She did not stop at anything when it came to offering her life for the school. Come to think of it, young as she was then, Garnie left her own family those days for a country unknown to her and was ready to defy all the odds to make Ghana, her second home. Today, as parents, see how we protest when our children are even sent to rural Ghana to do just one year national service.
Garnie Unfortunately, passed away on 30th January in the UK at the age of 86. She is being remembered today, 13th February, by all old girls from Wey Gey Hey, clad in all the different shades of the school cloth to bid their beloved late headmistress farewell at simultaneous memorial services to be held at her home town, Rathmell, in the UK and also at the Calvary Methodist Church, Accra this morning.
Miss Garnett was a headmistress of a special breed. For those of us who had the opportunity going through her lovely tender pair of hands at Wey Gey Hey, we will always remember her with fond memories. Today, we look back and say with all the confidence that we met and fell in love with a rare human being. Garnie had a genuine heart for her girls and was passionate in maintaining not only the academic excellence of the school, but she was particular about our spiritual, moral and social stability as well.
She related well with all, sometimes even more closely than we bonded with our house or form mistresses. Since her demise a fortnight ago, I have had the opportunity to talk to a few old girls who went through Garnie’s hands either as their Science teacher or as their headmistress. Dr Nellie Annan Adjaye, MBE, Consultant Paediatrician in the UK, was one such person I spoke with. For her, had it not been for Garnie who encouraged her to do Science, she would not have entered the Medical School. Many more had similar testimonies about Garnie’s positive influence in their lives as students.
One thing remarkable about Garnie was that she hardly got angry irrespective of all the naughtiness and the irritating pranks of teenagers. In times of our mischief, and with all the drowning bass sounds, all one would get from Garnie was a shout of, “Girls!” She would go on to clap once, twice and then scream loudly, “Girls, just behave yourselves!” And she would wait for a few minutes for calm to return.
Like a mother who found it too hard sometimes to give out stiffer punishment to her children, Garnie would only punish in exceptional cases of naughtiness, she preferred to counsel.
I remember in our sixth form days a couple of times when we had left our lights on after 9.30pm, Garnie would come and stand at “Atra” and clap hard sending notice that it was past time to turn our lights off and get to sleep. Garnie believed in gentle approach to getting things solved.
Garnie’s trade mark was a sweet smile which she wore all the time. That made it easier for all of us to run to her with all our problems when our form mistresses could not be of much help. She had the time and ear for each one of us. Her office became a walk through for all because she was virtually our school repairer. On a shelf in her office was assortment of items including broken pair of spectacles, wrist watches, belts, lost keys and sometimes sandals that needed to be fixed. She would find time to fix those that needed fixing.
One amazing bit about her was that Garnie seemed to know everyone by name. Occasionally, she would miss a name but in her mind she knew exactly who she was talking to. On my very first day at Wey Gey Hey, I was accompanied by my eldest sister to Garnie’s office so she could greet her and introduce me to her. Since then, Garnie never stopped calling me Charity, (my sister’s name). Sometimes when I attempted to correct her, she would smile and say, “Sorry, I mean Victoria”. That is how close our “shepherd” knew us.
Through her hands, Garnie has helped produce for our country, countless women trail blazers who are performing or have performed at the top of their careers in both Ghana and outside. The list is countless but I can mention the current Chief Justice of Ghana, Her Ladyship Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, Ghana’s first female Chief Justice, Professor Afua Hesse, the first female paediatric surgeon in Ghana, Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyeman, the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape-Coast and indeed the first female Vice Chancellor in the history of Ghana, and Professor Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu, former UN special envoy to Liberia and now the Director for the Legon Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy (LECIAD). Outside Ghana, I can readily think of Dr Nellie Annan Adjaye, MBE, Consultant Paediatrician in the UK and in the US, San Diego Superior Court Judge, Desiree Bruce-Lyle.
Garnie’s selfless dedication to the training of some of Ghana’s future mothers to live pure, speak the truth at all times, right the wrong wherever they found themselves and follow the King is a priceless gift for Ghana. No wonder before she left the shores of Ghana after 31 years, Garnie was awarded the Grand Order of the Volta, Ghana’s highest honour. Back in her home country, Britain, the Queen of England also honoured Garnie with a Member of the British Empire (MBE).
This selfless lady we remember today has apparently asked for her body to be donated to a medical school in the UK. How even in death, Garnie thought about how well she could serve the purpose of others.
Mrs Clarice Howorth (Nee Garnet) was a most loved headmistress. Garnie, your girls in Ghana and abroad are today bidding you their last farewell and to thank you from the bottom of their hearts for the precious times shared together at Wesley Girls. You were like a gem to us. We ask that the Almighty grant you a safe rest. Rest in peace.