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Obituaries

David Ford, the last British chief secretary in Hong Kong, dies aged 82

Ford was chief secretary in the city between 1986 and 1993

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 12:05am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 11:20am

David Ford, the last Briton to lead Hong Kong’s civil service as chief secretary in the final years before the handover, died on Saturday night. He was 82.

Ford was chief secretary of Hong Kong between 1986 and 1993, the last in a line of more than a century of expatriate domination of the government hierarchy, before he was succeeded by Anson Chan Fang On-sang, who confirmed Ford’s death on Sunday night.

As a superior, Ford was deeply respected and loved by colleagues in the civil service
Anson Chan Fang On-sang

In a statement, she extended her condolences to Ford’s family and praised Ford for contributing greatly to the smooth transfer of power in 1997 and pushing for the construction of the Chek Lap Kok International Airport.

“As a superior, Ford was deeply respected and loved by colleagues in the civil service,” she said.

Born on February 22, 1935, David Robert Ford joined the British Army when he was 20 and went on to serve a 15-year military career, which saw him posted to 17 outposts across the empire.

Ford was seconded to the Hong Kong government in 1967, the year communist agents instigated a bloody riot that left 51 people dead. Rising through ranks to reach the top of the Information Services Department by 1974, he had direct experience in propaganda warfare with the communists in Hong Kong.

Between 1977 and 1979 he was moved back to the UK as an undersecretary at the Northern Ireland Office. His unspecified duty coincided with the IRA’s resurgence of violence in the period known as The Troubles. That portfolio made pro-China newspapers believe he was an MI6 agent.

From 1979 to 1993 he stayed in Hong Kong – except for 1980 to 1983 when he studied at the Royal College of Defence Studies and worked as the Hong Kong commissioner in London, a post he would take for a second time after he stepped down as chief secretary in 1993.

As soon as Britain’s role in Hong Kong ended in 1997, he found himself liberated from public service, focusing on breeding rare cattle and sheep in Devon. It wasn’t long, though, before he returned to work, joining PCCW as a non-executive director in 2002.