“Governor dead – Sir Edward Youde dies in his sleep”, ran a headline in the South China Morning Post on December 5, 1986, reporting the 62-year-old civil servant’s passing that morning at the British ambassador’s residence in Beijing.
A Welshman, Youde was the only Hong Kong governor to die while in office.
“Sir Edward was appointed primarily to negotiate a solution to the future of Hongkong,” wrote the Post in an obituary the same day. “The Hongkong he leaves looks to the future with more confidence than seemed possible when Sir Edward was appointed. He can have no finer epitaph.”
News of Youde’s sudden death rocked Hong Kong. Businessman Bobby Chung told the Post: “It was unbelievable because I saw the Governor on television only late last night being interviewed on the street in Beijing.”
In a message published in the Posta day later, British prime minister Margaret Thatcher said: “I am deeply distressed to hear of Sir Edward’s unexpected death. I regarded him as an outstanding civil servant who had worked selflessly for Hongkong’s interests and it was characteristic that he was serving Hongkong at the end.”
In a personal note to his widow, Pamela Youde, which was also published in the Post that day, George H.W. Bush, then vice-president of the United States, wrote: “I have known him for many years and sought his advice often. Barbara and I send our deepest sympathies to his family.”
On December 9, the Post reported on the crowds that had filed past Youde’s coffin as he lay in state in Government House, Central: “Thousands of people […] from old men carrying walking sticks and a lifetime memory of Hongkong’s leaders to babes in arms – waited up to four hours to pay their final respects.”
On December 10, the Post noted that as the guard of honour had assembled in Upper Albert Road for the funeral procession, “Even the birds, it seemed, had suddenly adopted a vow of respectful silence in the trees around Government House.”