by Professor Chris Hutton
Today I’m speaking on behalf of the teaching and professoriate staff, as the longest serving academic staff member in the School of English. Franky has been part of the life of the Department and then the School for as long as I can remember. Indeed a yellowing letter in the department files records that Franky transferred to the then Department of English and Comparative Literature from his post as Office Assistant in the Registry − Franky first joined the university in 1970 − effective September 1, 1979, apparently at his request. The head of department at that time was Helen Kwok.
1979 was of course several years before the Joint Declaration in 1984; it was the year the MTR opened, though unfortunately not then reaching HKU; City Bus was founded; Murray MacLehose was the Governor; Elsie Elliott (later Elsie Tu) topped the polls in the Urban Council elections; the Shaw brothers movie Ten Tigers from Guangdong 廣東十虎與後五虎, produced by Mona Fong (a recent visitor to the Faculty of Arts) was showing, and top of the RTHK Gold Song awards was Michael Kwan 關正傑, with the theme song to a Rediffusion TV (ATV’s predecessor) martial arts drama, 天蠶變 (Reincarnated).
In my time at HKU, Franky has been always there and has been so much part of the daily routine that it is hard to imagine entering the general office without seeing him there or, failing that, spying the characteristic orderly disorder of his workspace. Sometimes you might find him in meditative pose before the computer late in the evening or at odd hours on the weekend. Franky has been the still point in a turning world of the department – if Franky is there, all is right in the world, or, at least, in the School … 天下太平.
All of us here in this room spend our lives in what they call in sociolinguistics an “institutional setting”. Institutions give life meaning, since they are a focus of activity, attention, and provide structure: we love to complain about HKU, but the institution gives a framework where we have a purpose, so we are lucky to have something to complain about – and institutions also pay you. Yet institutions are prone to forget that they are made up of people. HKU, like most universities around the world, is in the grip of the idea that what matters is what is measurable: performance, outcomes, outputs, rankings. And all of us are also sometimes in danger of taking for granted the colleagues alongside whom we work, in particular the administrative and office staff, especially and ironically because they do such an outstanding job.
What Franky gave was something much more profound than rankings and outcomes – himself, personality, character, commitment. How exactly would one describe Franky’s role in the School? Liaison with estates and various contractors, conference organization and support, IT back-up, booking manager, photographer, unofficial memory and archivist, keeper of the stamps, storemaster, catering manager, and wine steward, sometime designer of posters, support for the seminar series, producer of the iconic semester plan – with the holidays marked, the person who knows where things are, problem solver, universal back-up, counselor, calm and benign presence, and much much more… When I was Head, I can recall at least one occasion when Franky truly saved the day – Page may also recall – anyway it involved a bag of unmarked cash.
It struck me when I was thinking back that I have never seen Franky seriously angry or worked up. There might be the disappointed shake of the head at some delay or muddle in estates; the mildest hint of unhappiness if the School was letting its space to another department; or a frown if there was the suggestion of discarding some carefully preserved supplies. Franky’s highest level of disapproval was reserved for those who dared to ask for a new printer cartridge before the old one had been vigorously shaken multiple times. So out of respect to Franky, I am always working on squeezing a few more pages out of my printer cartridge.
Perhaps Franky’s finest hour was the great move, the migration of the School from the Main Building to the Centennial Campus, no small undertaking since English had been in the Main Building since the founding of the University and had accumulated all kinds of material and metaphorical baggage. Franky was in the frontline and served heroically. I say heroically because it brought into conflict two of Franky’s deepest personality traits. Firstly, his sense of duty and devotion to the School; secondly, his passionate view that nothing that might one day be useful in any conceivable way should ever be thrown away.
I hear that Franky is still going to be around in a new role which is very good news. Today we are marking a milestone in the history of the School and in Franky’s career at HKU – so it is a proper moment to take stock and express to him our heartfelt gratitude, and to wish him good health and happiness in the years ahead.