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In Memory of Major General Macfarlane: DB’s first ‘mayor’

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The next time you’re enjoying a leisurely afternoon drink on Tai Pak Wan, pour one out for the man who helped make it all possible, Major General William ‘Bill’ Thomson Macfarlane CB.

Operations Director for Discovery Bay from 1981 to 1983, Bill died peacefully on April 14, 2019, at the age of 93. He is survived by his daughter Tina and granddaughter Iona, who lovingly remember him as an officer and a gentleman.

As DB’s first Operations Director, with a house on Headland Drive, Bill organised and oversaw all the work needed to build the community from scratch.

Generally referred to as the first ‘mayor’ of DB, Bill was responsible for organising and implementing city management services, setting up security services, and operating and maintaining the infrastructure services, such as water supply, sewage disposal and public roads.

At that time, a development like DB was a completely new concept and there was no precedent to follow. Bill led a group of young colleagues to face various external issues, while liaising with government departments to resolve key concerns from residents. Thanks to his leadership and contribution, a harmonious community was set up.

A true people person, Bill was extremely popular with both DB’s early residents and his staff. “General Macfarlane was a gentleman and an easy-going person,” former colleague Clarence Leung recalls. “Even if he was a retired general, his management style was never militaristic. He always encouraged us to share our ideas and try different options.”

An officer and a gentleman

Thirty-five years in the British Army ensured that Bill was uniquely qualified for his Operations Director role. It was difficult for the police to patrol DB in the early days because there was no overland access, so one of the most important parts of the job was to set up a security force which could offer peace of mind to residents. Bill’s military experience meant he was well positioned to tackle this challenge.

Commissioned into the Royal Corps of Signals in 1946, Bill’s long military career included posts across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, where he gained experience in administration, committee work, personnel selection, engineering management, and finance and accountancy.

As the Chief of Staff at British Army Land Forces Headquarters in the UK, Bill planned and coordinated the work of some 86,500 regular soldiers, 57,000 reservists and 55,000 civilians. Notably too, he was stationed in Bonn, then West Germany as the Chief of the Joint Services Liaison Organisation. His role was to oversee the British Army’s requirements, rights and obligations in West Germany.

From 1973 to 1976, Bill was the Director of Public Relations for the British Army and, as the Military Assistant to the Commander-in-Chief, he travelled extensively throughout Southeast Asia – often visiting Hong Kong. In recognition of his years of service, Bill was appointed by Queen Elizabeth II as Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (CB) in 1981.

Bill describes the appeal of DB after his long military career in a South China Morning Post article published on March 5, 1983: “There is peace and quiet and you are constantly aware of the countryside… it’s a green and pleasant land. A place where people are not subject to the noise, bustle and harassment of town.”

That his description of DB is still as true now – 36 years later – as it was then, is a testament to Bill’s vision and dedication in guiding DB through its formative years.

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