He was born in 1914, the year of the beginning of the Great World War.
His parents had both come to Mozambique from Madeira island – first his father and some years later his mother, who had joined her brother. They met and soon they were married. He was the elder son, being followed by three sisters.
His father was a successful businessman. When he was six the whole family took a ship to go on a long holiday to visit their relatives in Madeira, and it was there that his younger sister was born.
But what should have been a happy time soon turned into tragedy as his father caught pneumonia and died – and his mother found herself a widow with four young children. He was nine at the time and he was deeply traumatised by his father’s death. He recalled how the house’s windows had all been covered with black curtains, and how he and his sisters, now orphaned, followed the funeral procession all dressed in deep mourning. These terrible days would be engraved in his memory forever and he would always be deeply distressed by anything that had to do with death.
Still, he had some good memories of those days in Madeira, such as learning to swim in the sea by the “Gorgulho” rock. He would always be a good, strong swimmer because of those many hours spent in the beautiful dark blue sea.
After a few years his mother decided to return to Mozambique – if it was due to lack of support from their relatives, or because she wanted to know what was happening to his father’s business back home, he never knew; what he understood, soon after their arrival, was that his father’s partners had dissipated what resources they might have and that they were nothing short of destitute. His mother, desperate, began sewing clothes as she had no other means of surviving, but it was hard to keep a family of five just on that at a time where few women worked.
He was a very good student and he was ambitious, he wanted to better himself, but soon he understood he would have to start working to help support his family; he began to notice that his mother would not eat so that he and his sisters might. She would simply say she had no appetite but he knew it was not true. He could not bear it any longer so at fourteen he quit school and started working at a bookshop to earn money to help his family. He would never go back to school again but he continued to study by himself, and he read, he read avidly, and during the years he continued, and so he proceeded with his education and he wrote so well, in such literary style that no one would ever suspect he had left school so early. In fact he was self-educated.
When he married the love of his life – his cousin Paulina, that he had always known and loved – their first years were tough, as they were all living together: himself and his wife, his mother and his three sisters. And money was never enough.
Soon he became a father and from the first moment he deeply loved his daughter, and now he had one more reason to try to improve their lives, because he wanted to give her everything, all the best things in the world. Nothing would be too much for his little princess.
A change of fortune
Years went by and one day his wife’s godfather offered him partnership. His current boss – now he was not working in the bookshop anymore but as an accountant in another firm – didn’t want him to leave and even offered him a raise, as by now he had understood how brilliant he was, but it was to no avail, as this was the opportunity he had been looking for. And from that moment on his fortunes began to change, but also the fortunes of the company he went to work for, because he turned it from a simple restaurant into a holding company that included the restaurant, but also factories of dairy products, suitcases, drinks, leather products…
At thirty-five he was a highly successful man: he had the house of his dreams built for his family, a beautiful house surrounded by a huge garden full of trees and with a large lawn where his daughter could run, even if she was fast becoming a young woman, not a child anymore. His sisters had already married and left, only his mother remained and he had once promised her she would always live with him as long as she wanted to. This was proving a difficult promise to keep as his mother and his wife hated each other but he was a man to keep his word. Fortunately his daughter and his mother were very close and much attached to one another so this somehow kept a balance in the family.
Fighting for justice
The company had grown. He was now one of the senior partners and when his wife’s godfather and main partner died he naturally assumed leadership. He was a natural leader and all the other partners trusted him and found him the best suited person for that position. He was also sought after for some political positions, even if he was very critical of the regime and took some controversial positions. He was an outspoken man who fought for justice and one day hosted a black man who was running away from an abusive boss. Even if slavery had been abolished for a long time – in fact Portugal was the first European country to do it – back in the fifties in Mozambique black workers could not freely leave one job to take another. This man sought him and he saw he had been battered and he would not have that. He welcomed him in his house and gave him a job there. When the police came looking for the man, he stood up to them and, due to the fact that he was already very influential, he managed to keep him as an employee. This man was forever grateful to him and worked for him for more than 25 years.
As much as he didn’t want to get involved in politics he decided – much due to the insistence of both his wife and daughter – he should accept the invitation to become a member of the Portuguese parliament representing his homeland, Mozambique. He felt there was much to be done for his homeland – in fact he was for a progressive autonomy of Mozambique, then a Portuguese colony, something that was not envisaged by the dictatorial regime.
He took his new role very seriously and, although very busy with his company and growing business, he found the time to visit distant regions of Mozambique so that he might see for himself the realities of life there. He was particularly shocked at what he described as “slave like conditions” of the workers in the cotton plantations of the North of Mozambique, and he consequently made a daring speech in parliament very strongly denouncing these. He told his wife not to wait for him at the hotel that day – they used to stay at the Tivoli hotel in Lisbon for the three months duration of Parliament sessions – as he expected the political police, PIDE, to arrest him. Strangely, they didn’t. But it was very courageous of him, as in those days no one dared raise their voices against what the regime considered “convenient”.
The good life
He was by now a wealthy man. His daughter was a lovely young woman and she wanted to fly with her own wings; she was leaving home to study at university and although he wanted her to study and have a career – he was very modern in that he thought a woman should be independent – this was breaking his heart but still he supported her, as he strongly believed women should have financial independence – not his wife, of course! Old fashioned as he was in many of his views, he was incredibly modern in this, and he instilled in his daughter this independent spirit.
When his daughter was married he welcomed his son in law and helped him find a job. They lived in his house for a number of years and two grandchildren were born to him, a girl and a boy, the joy of his life as his daughter had been, and still was; from a loving husband and father he became a doting grandfather and his life evolved between his work and his company, and his family; he could not be a happier man. He had it all – a loving marriage, health, success, money and social standing. Most incredible of all, he never became arrogant, he was a very simple person, very down to earth and always receiving the humblest of his employees with a smile and a kind word.
Alas, not everything lasts forever, and as the storm approached he was not aware of it – and when it befell him at first he didn’t realise what was happening.
After the 74 revolution in Portugal, it was soon very clear that the Portuguese colonies (such as Mozambique) would soon become independent and negotiations began between the new Portuguese government and the liberation movements, most of them of communist ideology. At first he could not believe he was going to have to leave his beloved homeland, or that he was going to lose everything he had worked so hard for, but his wife clearly saw it and, almost at the last possible minute, he arranged things so that they might send some furniture to Lisbon and also some money – as it was proving very difficult to do so. In the end he closed an international deal and that was the only money he could save – all the rest stayed in bank accounts in Mozambique and was taken over by the new state. He lost everything – his company, his properties, his money…from a wealthy man he became someone who had managed to save a little money that he would have to live from for the rest of his life. But the worst of it was not the money or properties, was the loss of his city, his homeland, the need to come to live in a country that was his but, at the same time, he felt he didn’t belong to. And also the fact that many people who before flew around him like flies, stopped calling and even pretended not to know him on the street, now that he had no social status or influence whatsoever.
After leaving Mozambique to bring his family to safety he still meant to go back to attend to his business. But when he was preparing to go back he was told he would most probably be arrested on his landing in Mozambique, as the new Government there had created a new crime called “economical sabotage”, that allowed them to put in jail many businessmen and thus take over their businesses. Perhaps the hardest decision of his life was not to board that plane – but he stayed, for the sake of his family, and for the two following years he was plunged into deep depression – he cried every day. After all, to begin life anew at sixty must be very difficult. Only the love of his life and the feeling that his family needed him brought him slowly back to life and finally he was himself once again. Or perhaps he was never exactly the same person – all this tragedy had changed him forever, but the fighter was finally back.
Finding a new meaning in life
He dedicated his life to raising his grandchildren who lived with him and his wife, and to manage the money he had been able to save in the best way he could. He was also involved in some political activities, both with the Mozambican opposition and an association he had helped create aimed at getting compensation from the Portuguese state for all the lost properties of the Portuguese citizens who had lived in the colonies. He and his colleagues strongly believed – and it had happened with other countries that had done the same with their colonies’ independence – that the Portuguese government had not safeguarded the rights of its citizens that, after all, had gone to populate those territories strongly driven by the government of the same country that years after would abandon them. So he kept busy but of course it was not – it would never be – the same thing as running his company.
He still lived through many happy moments in the remaining years of his life, a long one since he lived until his nineties: he saw his grandchildren into adulthood, saw them graduate and pursue successful careers for his great joy; he saw his great-grandchildren, first two boys and then a girl, whom he adored. He celebrated many wedding anniversaries with his beloved wife; he saw his dearest daughter do her PhD viva at the university where she lectured. Apart for an operation at seventy (to his prostate, a very common affliction in men) he lived in good health and looked remarkably younger than he was.
Then at ninety he began to look tired and drawn. Slowly he began to decay, to be sad, and to lose interest. When he was 92 he felt a pain in his chest and he became ill. Everyone told him it was nothing, it was only age, but he knew he was very ill. He knew it was the end.
After some time he took to bed and could not get up. His dearest wife, already old and frail like him, took care of him. His grandson who lived upstairs was there to help most of the time and his daughter and granddaughter came whenever they could. They tried to cheer him up and he pretended to be cheerful and smiled, for their sake, but he knew his time was running short.
One day he called his wife to his bedside and taking her hand in his told her: “You know, my darling, I still love you very much, as I always have, and always will”. His wife looked at him through her tears and thanked the universe for having given her this man, this husband, who almost 70 years after their marriage was still making such a beautiful love declaration.
He peacefully passed away, and certainly left the world much poorer, for he was a remarkable man.
A remarkable soul
This remarkable man was my grandfather. He loved me from the first moment he set eyes on me to his last moment. I am certain no one in my life has loved me more than him. Although we strongly disagreed during my youth – as I found him too old fashioned in some of his views – I also listened attentively to his advice, and followed it – and never regretted doing so. He taught me – and showed me, by his example – my values, how to behave, how to be simple and never arrogant, how never to feel I was better than anyone for any reason whatsoever, just to try and do better every time; he taught me to always say “please” and “thank you” no matter to whom; he taught me that hard work and honesty should always be my guiding principles; he was demanding, yet loving; he taught me so many things, but the most important was perhaps a sentence I never forgot” my darling” – he said – “study, so that one day you can work and be independent. So that you are never financially dependent on any man”.
Dear Granddad, wherever you are, know that every day of my life I am thankful to you for so many things, but for none more than this precious advice. Know that I see you as a great mentor, a great example, and that I love telling your story to my children, the story of a fearless, outspoken man who fought for justice and was never afraid. After all, that young boy of sixteen who once insulted two policemen who were mistreating some young boys beside you – and got arrested for it – always remained inside you, until the end.
A remarkable man you were, a remarkable soul you are. You have been so important to us. How privileged I feel to be your granddaughter.