City loses ‘Guardian of Main Street,’ Mama Ama

City loses ‘Guardian of Main Street,’ Mama Ama

PAWTUCKET – The outpouring of grief this week at the death of “Mama Ama” Amponsah, mentor to generations of city youth, was perhaps most profound among those young people whose lives were forever changed by her love and influence.

One after another shared how their talks with Amponsah kept them in line and out of trouble, crediting her for helping get them to where they are today.

“It’s impossible to put into words what she has meant to so many,” said Stephane Andrade, now at Yale University. “Her radiant smile and powerful spirit, a mother to us all, a true guardian of Main Street. My deepest condolences to the Amponsah family, and to my brother Germain.”

“I spent a large chunk of my childhood in and around Ama’s Variety, and it’s a necessary stop to share my journey when I return to the Bucket after time away,” said Pawtucket native Gabe Amo, newly appointed deputy director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House. “Thank you, Auntie Ama. You will be greatly missed.”

Amponsah, 62, a Woodlawn cornerstone and owner of Ama’s Variety on Main Street, died on Easter Sunday, which was also her birthday.

City Council President David Moran said it’s terribly sad that she didn’t have a chance to follow through on her plans to bring that helping hand to a larger platform, as she had so many ideas for what she wanted to accomplish on the council after winning election by two votes last fall.

“She was always there to support people and help people,” he said. “She was one of a kind, and this is a huge loss for the city, a huge void on the council. She just wanted to make people’s lives better, which she never got a chance to do on the council.”

Moran said Amponsah was the personification of someone who doesn’t have a mean bone in their body. Even those who didn’t know her all that well have broken down crying this week, he said, showing just what a profound influence she had.

Sandra Cano, local senator and lifelong city resident, said the city lost “a warrior, a beautiful soul, a woman of faith and full of love, a role model for the community, a true public servant, our City Council member and mom.”

“Mama Ama touched so many people’s hearts and lives,” she said. “She touched mine in the most beautiful way. Mama Ama empowered me to be better, to always believe and have faith even in the darkest and most difficult times. She was caring and thoughtful – when I was in the City Council (Amponsah was city sergeant at the time), she always left candy on everyone’s seat. That little detail was her way. She was always showing with little acts how sweet and caring she was. She was there for me when I faced lack of confidence at the beginning of my council journey. She would make me feel better every time.”

That story was echoed time and again this week, with those who were impacted by Amponsah in ways big and small saying how she always wanted to talk about them.

Mayor Donald Grebien said the city was deeply saddened at Amponsah’s passing.

“She was a staple of the 5th District and our community since the 1980s. Mama Ama was revered in the community for decades where she would welcome everyone at Ama’s Variety and Mini Mart with a smile,” he said. “She honorably and faithfully served as the sergeant at arms for the Pawtucket City Council for close to a decade prior to serving on the Pawtucket City Council, where she served on the Finance Committee, Animal Control Committee, License Committee, Substance Abuse/Non-Violence Committee, and the Ad Hoc Committee on Economic Development and Neighborhood Improvement.”

He added, “Our heartfelt condolences go out to her loving husband Isaac, three children, and family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during these trying times.”

Amponsah had been dealing with health issues for some time, according to those who knew her. Former Councilor Mary Bray, head of the Democratic City Committee who helped her win election last year, said she’d been dealing with lung problems. Moran said her struggles were apparent at recent council meetings, when she didn’t have her video on for the Zoom link and didn’t sound or look good. Even so, her death came as a complete shock, he said.

Moran said he plans to fill in on the committees Amponsah served on for now. At some point, he said, an election to replace her will have to be held.

Editor’s note: Mama Ama had a profound impact on me from the day I first met her more than a decade ago and later visited her home to write a story on her proud Ghanaian holiday traditions. Her home was filled with laughter and love.

She would ask me about my family every time she saw me. Not in just that polite sort of way, but waiting to hear the latest tidbits on each of my children. When I called her for interviews during last year’s campaign, she wanted to know about me first.

Ama won last year’s election by two votes, but her demeanor probably would have been exactly the same if she’d lost by two.

They say everyone has their critics, but one would be hard-pressed to find someone who had a bad word to say about Ama, who rarely spoke of her own good work but instead chose to put her life of faith into the daily action of helping others.

My sincerest condolences to her entire family and her many friends.