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MACAU IN HONG KONG: NEW CLUB LUSITANO’S VISIONARY MANAGER – Ex-police chief Stephen Handley on how in WWII “God’s hand” saved his grandmother and her eleven children

admin / July 12, 2019

– Robaird O’Cearbhaill

Stephen Handley knows what forged him: Macau, Hong Kong and English roots, his Hong Kong Police Force top job, wise parents and faith with devotion. He rose to senior officer among  30,00O police by hard work, long hours, accepting responsibility, and getting the job done. Then there was luck. Luck or divine providence has been in his family since WW2 where he, with his mother, ten siblings and parents, survived near destitution in Hong Kong. Likewise after his grandfather died in 1943, his desperate grandmother and the children shipped to Macau homeless with no relatives there, finding extraordinary refuge, beyond belief.

Luck too was in Handley’s  favor during the 1996 Hong Kong – Beijing Rally after facing long fast overnight drives, along slim roads cut into steep mountains, where the slightest error would mean death.

Macau in his family blood and heart features not just in history, and joyous visits, it too was a major part of his intelligence work as the casino monopoly opened up. And family still plays a central role in Handley’s life both with the young and the elderly, with two kids still at school, and regular UK visits to his parents. 

Despite the demands of family and work, Handley always makes sure there’s time for Catholic practice.  Handley opened up to O Clarim about his salutary life of dedication to the community, luck and how his grandmother’s prayers were answered in time of dire need.

How important was Macau to you?

My grandmother, whose maiden name is Sarah Antonio, told me this story that in 1944, during the war, and a year after my grandfather passed away in 1943, (desperate having no where to stay) her family, eleven children and her mother hired a Chinese junk and sailed to Macau with all their life’s possessions, including their dining table. Upon arriving in Macau my grandmother saw the unpleasant conditions of the camp they were allocated.  She left the kids with the junk and visited the Church of Saint Anthony.  She knelt, prayed and cried, then she felt a tap on her shoulder.  A thin old lady with white hair asked her why was she crying.  My grandmother explained that she just arrived from Hong Kong with her family of 11 children and had no safe place to stay.  She was praying for somewhere to stay and keep her children safe.  The woman answered that “your prayers have been answered” and asked my grandmother to follow her. They walked down the road, to No. 2 Rua de Santo Antonio, when the lady brought her up a flight of steps of a narrow building and showed her an apartment. It was long and narrow with a small balcony at the end.  It was perfect and that’s where the family stayed until they returned back to Hong Kong in September 1945. My grandmother, a devoted Catholic, always thought it God’s hand that, in one of her darkest moments of helplessness, gave her hope and refuge. The fact that she prayed in the Church of Saint Anthony, was given refuge in an apartment on Rua de Santo Antonio and her married name was Antonio, was more than a coincidence.  This street, for sentimental reasons has a lot of meaning. The Taipa museum houses are every special too because my family used to live in houses like that.

Was Macau important too for police work?

In analytical criminal intelligence I worked for a long period researching the implications of the opening up of the casino monopoly, financial money laundering and movement of criminals between the Hong Kong and Macau. We always had a good relationship with the police in Macau.

Tell me about your management role and the future of Hong Kong’s Club Lusitano, whose members are mostly of Macanese descent

An exciting time, undergoing a full renovation reopening in September. With the renovated clubhouse, new services, such as a pastelaria, and great care is made to reflect and preserve our cultural heritage to Macau and Portugal. I am fortunate here, part of this drive and vision by the Board of Trustees and General Committee to secure its future to the generations to come. I myself hope that my own children may join for what the club represents as well as the services it offers. Much more than a job, but a passion. It is a small club (few) staff so very hands on, watch every dollar. Exciting times ahead. The General Committee has a business plan which sets out my targets: to make Club Lusitano a premium boutique club in Hong Kong.    

You said earlier that you follow the two Golden Rules of Catholicism: love God above all and love your neighbour.

Yes because I am a practicing Catholic. I have had my ups and downs but always find a way for prayer and  learnt from my mother and grandmother, devoted Catholics, as most Macanese are, as well as from 11 years in boarding school with the Augustinian priests in the UK.

How did you get such a high rank, senior superintendent, in the Hong Kong Police?

Luck, in the postings I had!  I worked hard, spent many of my weekends and days off in the office.  I accepted responsibility and knew the work had to be done.  Because of this, because I had the high integrity, I managed to get promoted up the ranks.  

Was it a rewarding or just a hard job?

Serving the community is satisfying. You meet a lot of people you wouldn’t otherwise meet, it’s interesting and you go to lots of places too. There’s comradeship too and security.

You mention security but, first of all, you made a very dangerous road race an adventure and a funny incident too

This involved being on the road nearly 24/7 for the week driving overnight while the camera crews, rally drivers and their own support crews slept.  As you can appreciate there was some hair-raising driving (steep drops below very narrow roads at very fast speed) using only rally map books to navigate our way up China. A once in a lifetime experience, often off the beaten track, untouched China, places seldom visited by foreigners.  The rural villages and the smiling curious children were the best. Funny moment? At a rural petrol station in the middle of nowhere and had to go to do a number 2. I was directed to a brick hut and found the hole to do my business. Squatting I heard these strange noises coming from under me.  Exiting the hut and upon closer examination, I realized the hut was propped on stilt supports and underneath was a small muddy field of pigs.  No need to say what they were feeding on.