Dora Anie: Matriarch. Caretaker. Believer. Warrior. Born Aug. 23, 1949, in Mepom, Ghana; died June 11, 2019, in Hamilton, of ovarian cancer; aged 69.
Dora Anie didn’t like to be edited. I know this because, when it came time to inform supporters of Schools of Dreams, the charity she founded to build schools in rural Ghana, that she wouldn’t be attending the annual fundraiser due to cancer treatment, I was asked to edit her statement. Shortly after the request was made, her daughter Barbara sent this note: “Actually, forget the edit. Dora does not want to be edited.”
Though Dora didn’t need anyone else to speak for her, she was often the voice of others: schoolchildren in Ghana, new immigrants to Canada who were settling in Hamilton and her own family members who needed support when it wasn’t found elsewhere.
A teacher by trade, having studied in her native Ghana, Dora moved to Canada with her husband, Albert, in 1973, settling first in London, Ont., and later in Hamilton. She had two girls, Ann-Marie and Barb, but they were far from the only people she was a mother to. She became legal guardian of her great niece and nephew, Dora and Collins. And it wasn’t odd for her family to have strangers joining them around the dinner table. Taking care of others was, in a way, how Dora took care of herself – fulfilling a driving desire to empower people, to learn their potential and achieve it.
Over the course of her working life, Dora was a bookkeeper, owned a gas station with her husband and ran a hair salon. Her clients would follow her from location to location; such was her magnetic charm and ability to quickly form close relationships.
She also used these skills in her volunteer work, which was plentiful, including becoming a peer mentor for those who had been affected by cancer.
This is not to say she was flawless. She flirted with vanity when given the chance and was known for her colourful closet, full of dresses made from patterned kente cloth, and impromptu photo shoots with her as the model. Dora could pull this boldness off, though. She knew herself, believed in her worth and thought everyone should feel the same.
On a trip to Ghana with her daughters, they visited the elementary school Dora attended and found it to be in desperate need of repair. It shook her, and she decided she had to do something. Upon returning to Hamilton, she put photos of the school and town up in her salon. Customers asked about it and said they wanted to support an initiative to rebuild the school. Fellow church members at MacNab Presbyterian got involved as well. In 2004, the first school was refurbished. A second school was completed in 2013. And the third school should be finished later this year.
In her final days, Dora was still meeting with Schools of Dreams board members to ensure the foundation she laid was sturdy enough to be built upon. She cracked private jokes with visitors, welcomed foot massages and even tried her hand at matchmaking. She was taking care of others as she was being taken care of.
In Ann-Marie’s early days of teaching, as she left the house each morning, Dora would call out to her daughter, “Go and make a difference.”
Anyone who knew Dora would say that she practised what she preached.
Maryam Siddiqi is family friend.
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