Citations and Speeches


115th Congregation (1982)

Sir Jack CATER

The Public Orator Dr. Arnold Chia-Loh Hsieh, B.SC., M.D., D.SC., wrote and delivered the following citation:

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present Jack Cater for the degree of Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa.

Jack Cater was swept into the Second World War in 1939 when he was seventeen years old and came to Hong Kong as a member of the executive branch of the civil affairs unit of the military administration when it ended in 1945. He joined the Colonial Administrative Service in 1946. His initial duties brought him into close contact with the farmers and fishermen of the New Territories and exposed him to the fundamental practical problems of a society recovering from a long period of turmoil. It can be said that Jack Cater learned about Hong Kong by starting at the grass roots. While in the midst of catering to their immediate needs for food and equipment, for treatment of diseases and malnutrition, and for repairing torn sails, he discovered that the overriding desire of the population he was ministering to was education for their children. And so he set about improving educational opportunities in the New Territories. This concern for the welfare of the underprivileged and 'the heroes of our economic success' has dominated his thoughts and actions ever since.

In the twenty years from 1946 to 1966, Jack Cater worked his way through many Government departments and units - from Registrar of Cooperative Societies, to Director of Marketing, to Director of Agriculture and Fisheries, to Deputy Economic Secretary. After spending a year at the Imperial Defence College, he returned to Hong Kong as Defence Secretary and Special Assistant to the Governor (Special Duties). The special duties were, of course, the handling of the daily crises that arose from what has been euphemistically called 'the disturbances of 1967'. It is perhaps characteristic of Jack Cater to recall, fourteen years later, not the days of anxiety and the sleepless nights, but the day he was called to receive a Message of Support from representatives of the University of Hong Kong Students' Union. This act of courage on the part of our students marked the beginning of the changing of the tide. It also indicated to Jack Cater that what he was doing was worthwhile - the youth of Hong Kong had told him so.

During the years 1968 to 1973, Jack Cater, through his work on the Trade Development Council, Department of Commerce and Industry, Information, and of Home Affairs, came into close contact with the captains of industry - the very pillars of our society. He was in no way intimidated. It was at this time that he began thinking and talking about the need for reform of our labour laws. Four free days a month and a 48 hour week do not seem excessive, but when first broached the proposals were received with a certain degree of uneasiness. Jack Cater has explained that all he did was to point out that responding only to crises as they arose was wasteful of time, energy and money. Dipping into the well of his experience, he predicted that unless something was done to improve the working conditions of the people who helped to generate the wealth of the territory, social unrest would grow. This is the hallmark of the pragmatic administrator.

At this point I should perhaps say a few words about pragmatism. Pragmatism is a theory of the nature of ideas and truth. It was, perhaps still is, a legitimate subject for debate amongst philosophers. In his book entitled 'Pragmatism', published in 1907, William James wrote that pragmatism is a method of looking away from first things, principles, categories, supposed necessities; and looking towards last things, fruits, consequences, facts. Thus the legend was born that pragmatism is the approach in which principles are bent or ignored for the achievement of a practical end or the satisfaction of practical needs. This is quite wrong, 'pragmatic' means only the rule of referring all thinking, all reflective considerations, to consequences for final meaning and test. Nothing is said about the nature of the consequences; they may be aesthetic, or moral, or political, or religious, or social in quality.

Jack Cater had ample opportunity to exercise his pragmatism when he took the Job of first Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. There were no models to copy, no experts to consult. He was starting ab initio, or, to put it in the vernacular, from scratch. At the time there were two widely held myths. One was that corruption was confined to a certain stratum of society. The other held that corruption was so woven into the very fabric of our society that it could not be removed without irreparable damage to the tapestry. Both views indicated that any action that was to be taken should be low key. The consequences of ineffective action on the credibility of the Government was apparent to Jack Cater and he proceeded to explode both myths. The Commission was organized along three lines for the detection, punishment and prevention of corruption. He acted vigorously with his usual enthusiasm for work and doing things; for Jack Cater has been a doer all his life - 'let me be the one, to do what has to be done' may well be his motto. In the process he lost quite a few friends and exposed his family to a considerable amount of unpleasantness. However, he gained new friends in all walks of life and won the respect and gratitude of the honest majority for helping to restore dignity to our daily life.

To the best of my knowledge, Jack Cater has not taken a formal course in social science or social work. His learning has come from walking, working and thinking. He is equally at ease walking through the marketplace as ambling through the corridors of power. For thirty-six years his walks have taken him all over urban and suburban Hong Kong, and it is there that he has met and conversed with the people who have made Hong Kong what it is today. What he saw and heard stimulated a receptive mind to thoughts and actions which have benefited the whole community. We can say with pride that Jack Cater was 'educated in Hong Kong'.

Mr. Chancellor, for his services to the community Jack Cater has been honoured by Her Majesty with the M.B.E. in 1956, the C.B.E. in 1973 and the K.B.E. in 1979. Upon the eve of his retirement from the post of Chief Secretary to become our Commissioner in London, he was praised by a leading English language newspaper for helping, together with your Excellency, to preserve the humanity of a bureaucratic government. There are many who would regard this as the ultimate accolade for a member of the civil service. For being a social scientist of the highest order, the University likewise wishes to honour him and I request your Excellency to confer upon Jack Cater the degree of Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa.