Date
16 December 2017
David Ford, who led Hong Kong's civil service from 1986 to 1993, was a key player in the planning for the city's 1997 handover to China. Photo: HKEJ
David Ford, who led Hong Kong's civil service from 1986 to 1993, was a key player in the planning for the city's 1997 handover to China. Photo: HKEJ

Former chief secretary David Ford passes away at age 82

Sir David Robert Ford, the last British chief secretary of Hong Kong, passed away in England over the weekend at the age of 82.

Ford died on Saturday at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, according to reports. The cause of death was immediately not clear.

Ford worked in various departments in the British colonial government in Hong Kong from 1972 until 1993, prior to the city’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.

He served as chief secretary between 1986 and 1993 and helped in the planning for the handover.

Ford was acting governor of Hong Kong for a week before Chris Patten reported for duty in 1992.

Anson Chan, who succeeded Ford as chief secretary and became the first ethnic Chinese to hold the top civil service post in the colonial administration, condoled the death of her former colleague.

Born in 1935, Ford started out as a military man, serving the British army on various continents.

His political career commenced in 1972 as he joined the Hong Kong government as a vice secretary at the Information Services Department.

Two years later he was promoted and soon became an indispensable part of the British colonial government. He reached the peak of his career in 1986 when he became the chief secretary.

One of his most challenging tasks during his time in the top post was to oversee the construction of the new airport in Chek Lap Kok.

Ford was a member of the Airport Development Committee, leading government officials on the project.

Chan, who took the top civil service job from Ford in 1993, recalled that her former British colleague had been a great help in assisting and facilitating a peaceful handover back in 1997, and that he was a loved and respected leader and boss.

Another challenge that Ford had faced during his term was the 1990 Hong Kong Bill of Rights.

The Briton had refused to legitimize a law to limit the freedom of speech, the Hong Kong Economic Journal noted.

Ford retired in 1997 as the Hong Kong Commissioner in London. In 2002, he became a non-executive director of PCCW and constantly travelled between London and Hong Kong. 

Ford had two marriages. After divorcing his first wife in 1987, he married a woman named Gillian Petersen. The couple had no children. Gillian had been by his side when he was hospitalized.

Martin Lee Chu-ming, founding chairman of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, described Ford as a very efficient man. The Briton had been very good at finding talents to work for him, he said.

Lee had been challenged by Ford a few times in the Legislative Council chambers, but understood that it was simply because they were on different sides.

Emily Lau Wai-hing, another veteran Hong Kong political figure, also praised Ford, saying he was a very open-minded man who was more than willing to discuss new topics and viewpoints.

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