First Lady Ernestina Mills, wife of John Atta Mills, with Michelle Obama in 2012
He was married to Ernestina Naadu Mills, an educator, and had a son, Sam Kofi Atta Mills. He was raised a Protestant in the Methodist tradition. He was a good friend to T. B. Joshua, self-proclaimed "prophet" of The Synagogue, Church of All Nations in Lagos, Nigeria and regularly visited his church. He said, following his inauguration, that Joshua had prophesied that it would take him three elections to win the presidency and that the result would be released in January.
He contributed to the Ghana Hockey Association, National Sports Council of Ghana, Ghana Olympic Committee and Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club. He was one time the chairman. He enjoyed field hockey and swimming, and once played for the national hockey team (he remained a member of the Veterans Hockey Team until his death). He was also a board member of Hearts of Oak, the former chairman of the Black Stars management team and a Manchester United fan.
Other activities and projects
Mills was involved in various activities and projects:
He was a member of the Ghana Stock Exchange council.
In 1988, he became the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service of Ghana and was named national tax commissioner in September 1993.
He also held examiner positions with finance-related institutions in Ghana, including the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Institute of Bankers, and Ghana Tax Review Commission.
He served on the Board of Trustees of the Mines Trust.
He was a member of the Management Committee of the Commonwealth Administration of Tax Experts, United Nations Ad Hoc Group of Experts in International Cooperation in Tax Matters and United Nations Law and Population Project
He led a study on equipment leasing in Ghana.
He chaired the casebook preparation on Ghana's income tax.
He oversaw the Review of Ghana's Double Tax Agreement with the UK.
Illness and death
He died on 24 July 2012 at the 37 Military Hospital in Accra, three days after his 68th birthday. Though the cause of death was not immediately released, he had been suffering from throat cancer and had recently been to the US for medical reasons. Announcing his death, his office noted that he died hours after being taken ill, but a presidential aide said that he had complained of pains the day prior to his death. However, Mills' brother, Dr. Cadman Mills disclosed during the burial service that he had died from a massive stroke. According to the BBC, his voice had degenerated in the previous few months. Former minister Elizabeth Ohene said that as a result of previous false reports of his death, she had not believed initial claims of his actual death. "For the past three or four years there's been news he's been unwell and rumours of his death – twice – and he appeared with grim humour to say they were exaggerated, insisting he was well." His vice president John Dramani Mahama was sworn in at about 20:00 GMT on the same day. In accordance with Ghana's constitution, Mahama's tenure expired at the same time Mills' was due to end, by the end of the year just prior to an election, in which he was due to run. Mahama said upon being inaugurated in parliament:
This is the saddest day in our nation's history. Tears have engulfed our nation and we are deeply saddened and distraught. I never imagined that one day that it would place our nation in such a difficult circumstance. I'm personally devastated, I've lost a father, I've lost a friend, I've lost a mentor and a senior comrade. Ghana is united in grief at this time for our departed president.
Atta Mills' gravestone at the Asomdwee Park in Accra
From 8–10 August, his body lay in state, where Ghanaian government officials, civil society, traditional leaders, the clergy, the general public and dignitaries such as Côte d'Ivoire's Alassane Ouattara, Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan and Senegal's Macky Sall paid their last respects. Within this period, a two-night vigil was also held at the forecourt of the State House for cultural and musical performances such as traditional dirges, plays and tribute reading. Thousands streamed into the State House to pay their last respects to Mills as he lay in state with some mourners queuing for hours, many of them wailing with grief, in lines up to 10km (6 miles) long per press reports. The body was then taken by a military cortege from the State House parliamentary complex to the Independence Square for the funerary services which was attended by 18 African Heads of State, 5 Vice-Presidents, United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson, Secretary-General of African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, Mohamed Ibn Chambas and several other international envoys. In all, there were 67 foreign delegations represented at the funeral. In addition to the over 50,000 people who gathered for the ceremony, his funeral was also attended by Benin's Thomas Boni Yayi, who said of Mills that he was "passionate about peace in Africa and in the region," as well as Togo's Faure Gnassingbe, who said "[Mills] was like a brother to me. I will surely miss him."
Ahead of religious ceremonies on Friday morning, the officially declared national day of mourning, a helicopter hovered over the area dropping leaflets reading: We want peaceful elections in 2012. The funeral ended with the release of a hundred white doves into the air to signify the peaceful nature of the departed leader.
After the funeral service, the president's body was taken on a military procession through some principal streets of the Ghanaian capital, Accra and then for burial in a newly created presidential mausoleum located in a bird sanctuary, Geese Park renamed Asomdwee (Peace) Memorial Park along the Marine Drive and next to the old seat of government, the 17th-century Fort Christiansborg, (also known as Osu Castle), which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean's Gulf of Guinea. As the sitting Commander-in-Chief, Mills was accorded full military honours, steeped in distinct and elaborate traditions, including a slow march by the Ghana Army, a fly-past of Ghana Air Force jets ejecting plumes of smoke in the national colours of red, gold and green, with the Ghana Navy ships also performing ceremonial manoeuvres on the shoreline behind the Independence Square and a 21-gun salute accompanying the sounding of the Last Post by military buglers after the casket had been lowered into the grave. Approximately 700 domestic and foreign media outlets received accreditation from the Ghanaian Ministry of Information to cover the event. An estimated 20 – 25 million television and online or web audience watched the three-day funeral ceremonies. The state funeral for the late president was most likely the largest gathering of people in one place at a single public event in recent or modern Ghanaian history.