A tribute to my father

My Dad died ten years ago today. As the eldest of his four sons, it fell upon me to give the eulogy at his funeral – the hardest job I have ever done.

You are unlikely to have interest in my father as a person but there are two facets of his character, and his life, which you might care to consider.

How many of today’s leaders would have volunteered to rebate all income earned outside their salaried job back to their employers, to the extent that by the time of his retirement my father’s employers were ‘earning’ more from him than they were paying to him?

If you have anti-colonial feelings, please consider the possibility that a great many British ‘expats’ were good people who made a positive contribution to the people and communities they lived with and in. I am proud to say my Dad was one of them. I hope you agree:

“He was born on 27 September 1921. In 1940, after only one term at Oxford, he was called up to the army. By the end of the War, he was a Captain and had served in India, Egypt, Persia, Lebanon, Singapore and India again.

After the War, in England but not wanting to go back to Oxford, as a 25 year old and after five years fighting a war, he accepted a job in Calcutta (Kolcata) with Mackinnon Mackenzie, the Far Eastern agents of the P&O shipping company.

Soon, he was transferred to Malaya, where he lived in Penang for three years. And then to Japan, where he lived in Kobe for three and a half years.

In 1954, he was posted to Hong Kong. In 1963, he was promoted to Chairman and Managing Director of Mackinnon Mackenzie Hong Kong and there began 10 happy years.

Professionally, this was his most fulfilling period. Apart from his day job with the P&O, he was Chairman of Mackinnon’s Godown, Pennell & Company, Sworn Measurers and Weighers Ltd, Travel Tours Ltd, Shanghai Dockyards and the Hong Kong Electric Company.

He was a Director of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank, Mercantile Bank, Union Insurance Society of Canton, Dairy Farm, Hong Kong Tramways, Indo China Steam Navigation Ltd, Union Waterboat Company, Star Ferry, Hong Kong Wharf Company, Douglas Steamship Company, Taikoo Dockyards and Cathay Pacific Airways.

After he retired he revealed to me that, apart from his basic Mackinnons salary, any or all of the fees generated from these directorships were sent back to the P&O in London. He just felt this was the right thing to do.

There were also public appointments. These directly involved him in the Government of the colony. He was a member of the Legislative Council, where he sat on the Finance Committee, the Public Works Committee and School Fees Committee.

Unusually, for a period, he sat on both the Legislative Council and the Executive Council, effectively The Cabinet, at the same time.

He was a member of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the Hong Kong Tourist Board, the Port Committee, the Court of the University of Hong Kong and the Tenancy Tribunal. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1968.

There was also voluntary work with the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce, the Far East Freight Conference, the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, the Joint Associations Committee on Employer/Employee Relations, the Chinese Language Committee, the Festival of Hong Kong Committee, the Hong Kong Chinese University Committee, Outward Bound, and the Cheshire Homes.

In 1973, he was awarded the OBE for services to the community in Hong Kong.

But I believe it is not what he did in his life that set my father apart, but the way he did it. How he behaved. He was friendly, considerate and courteous. He had a nice word, and a smile, for everybody.

He was modest and completely unmaterialistic. He valued the simple things in life, some of which in his later years, and to his great sadness, were denied him: golf, gardening, bridge, his health and even, at the end, his speech.

He believed in doing the right thing and doing things the right way, even when he knew that doing the right thing would not be easy, or the consequences difficult to face.

He was a man of the world but, more importantly, he was a man of his word. He was absolutely honest. When he said he would do something, he did it. He meant what he said.

And, sometimes, we have to admit, he said what he meant: even if this gave the impression that he could be a little tactless, a little strong-willed, a little stubborn. (Remarkably, none of his four sons have inherited these characteristics!).

Above all, he was enormous fun. In fact, he was probably more fun to be with – and more fondly thought of – than he himself realised. He had a ready smile, a twinkle in his eye, and a healthy sense of the ridiculous, particularly if he felt people were being pompous or taking themselves too seriously.

He was witty, he was warm and he was wise. And he was wonderful company.

There is one final thing I would like to say.

If anyone in this church, or who knew my father at all, ever has a difficult decision in your life, or a personal dilemma, I would urge you to pour yourself a large whisky, or, if it is before lunch, a pink gin; sit down in your favourite armchair; look up from the crossword; look away from the Test Match on the telly; look out through your drawing room window into the garden; and say to yourself: ‘What would Gerry Salmon have done?’

Because, if you do this, I know: that your decision will be the right one, that you will be a better person, and that he won’t have died at all.”



About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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