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Abu Dhabi government’s ‘employee No 1’ dies aged 82

Alfred Silvester handled Shaikh Zayed’s official and private corespondence with non-Arab countries

Image Credit: Supplied
Alfred Silvester
Gulf News

Sharjah: An Indian expatriate who worked in Shaikh Zayed’s court for three decades has passed away in Canada, a relative told Gulf News.

Alfred Silvester, 82, who held the labour card that declared him as Abu Dhabi government’s employee number 1, wore a gold-plated Rolex watch gifted to him by Shaikh Zayed in 1968 until his death, his nephew Edison James told Gulf News on Sunday.

“He passed away on December 8 evening in Toronto where he had settled with his elder daughter after his retirement from the presidential court in Abu Dhabi,” James told Gulf News from Sharjah.

Alfred Silvester with T.P. Seetharam, former Indian ambassador to UAE, in 2014, when he was invited for a special event to mark 50 years of expatriate life in the UAE.

Silvester died in a local hospital in Toronto following a bout of pneumonia. His wife, Dr Edith Alfred, one of the first gynaecologists in the UAE, and families of their two daughters, Sheba David and Shyama Richard, were also present in the hospital when he died, said James.

Silvester’s funeral services will be held in Thornhill in Ontario on December 15.

Silvester, whose life story was published by Gulf News in July 2014, has been deeply mourned by several people cutting across nationalities and religion.

A condolence meeting was held for Silvester in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. More condolence meetings are being scheduled in Dubai and Sharjah this week. On Saturday, a mass will be conducted at St. Michael’s Church in Sharjah at 8.15pm.

 His house was a haven for many poor migrants. He had done many humanitarian projects for the society and was also honoured with the Benemerenti Medal from the Pope for the service to the church.”

 - Edison James | Alfred Silvester’s nephew  

A post-graduate in Economics, Silvester first came to the then Trucial States on a ship from Bombay (now Mumbai) with a third-class ticket for Rs135 in 1964. He secured his first job with Lebanese firm Albert Abela, the chief engineer of which later referred him to the head of administration at Qasr Al Hosn Palace for his job there.

Silvester’s employment order was signed by Shaikh Zayed. His job was to take care of all official and private correspondence of Shaikh Zayed with non-Arab countries. Most of it was with the British empire and pertained to routine affairs. The letter he would draft would be translated into Arabic and signed by Shaikh Zayed after verification.

His job included writing letters to the Heads of States in various countries such as Queen Elizabeth and Indira Gandhi and he had the chance to rub shoulders with prominent people. Yet, Silvester remained ever humble, said James. “His house was a haven for many poor migrants. He had done many humanitarian projects for the society and was also honoured with the Benemerenti Medal from the Pope for the service to the church in 2004.”

James said Silvester was considered as a godfather for an entire coastal neighbourhood in the south Indian state of Kerala, where he hailed from.

“He was the man who spurred the growth for most of the families in the Sakthikulangara coastal village in Kollam district those days. He helped at least one person from each family in the neighbourhood to secure a job in the UAE and made sure that they in return help others back home to get jobs.”

There are thousands of residents from Sakthikulangara living in various emirates. In 2014, they had invited Silvester for a special event to mark the 50 years of expatriate life in the UAE. The then Indian ambassador to the UAE, T. P. Seetharam, had also hosted a reception for him at that time.