“I don’t have any regrets, I either won or I learnt“
There can’t be many people in Gibraltar who don’t know Henry Sacramento, even if not personally then they will surely have heard of him.
Henry describes himself as ‘a cocktail of all kinds of blood’. “My father’s family has been in Gibraltar since 1840 when the first Sacramento came over from a little fishing village in Portugal called Tavira,” he explains, “and my son has recently given me a new grandson who is now the eleventh generation of our family born here.”
It was while working as a plumber for the MOD that Henry’s father first met his mother. “She was born in Jerez del la Frontera in Spain and came to Gibraltar at the age of 27 to work as a nanny for Dr Henry Triay, the local paediatrician at that time, after whom I was named.” As the youngest of three brothers, Henry remembers his mother taking him along in the evenings when she cleaned offices for the Isola family. “Although I was well behaved, I was also very boisterous and she felt that she couldn’t leave me with my brothers, so I would empty the ashtrays and collect the wastepaper baskets for her.”
Always a hard worker, Henry would do odd jobs to earn money and at the age of 11 he had saved enough money to buy a second hand bicycle so that his parents didn’t have to find the money to pay for his bus fare to school. “When I was studying for my GCSEs I worked part-time at Napoleon’s Menswear in Main Street, leaving school at 4.15 pm and working from 4.30 – 7.30 pm Monday to Friday and a half day on Saturday.”
At the age of 17 Henry decided he didn’t want to go on and do his ‘A’ levels and he applied to become a police cadet. “I started on the 3rd October 1977 and became a fully-fledged police officer when I became 18, on the 16th June 1978, which was the start of a long career with the Royal Gibraltar Police Force.
“I did three years of shift work, but by the time I was 21 a vacancy came up for a community officer and I took on that role for the Glacis and Laguna Estates, and through that I became very involved with the schools, lecturing on road safety and first aid, and teaching cycling proficiency in St. Anne’s School.”
Dance and drama has always been a passion, something that Henry was involved with during his school years having been a pioneer of the youth theatre. ”The first production I took part in as a policeman was in September 1981 when The Gibraltar Youth Theatre produced The Rite Of Spring directed by Mario Arroyo which was the largest cast of male dancers that Gibraltar had ever seen,” he states, continuing to say that as he was on night shift duty he was given permission to perform but that after showering he had to put on his uniform and walk the beat until 7 am!
In 1982 Henry was asked to go to the International Festival of Music and Performing Arts in Aberdeen by the late Lionel Perez, founder of the Alpha Dance Group. “Most of the other community officers were involved with youth football teams, but my way of getting in touch with the young people was through dance and drama, and it gave them a chance to be able to see a policeman as a person and not just a uniform” he says. “I asked permission from Commissioner Williams at the time and he agreed that I should go.”
Notwithstanding his incredible work as a Police Officer for over 37 years, Henry is renowned for his charity work and it was his involvement in a fundraising project for St. Martin’s School that led him to his first meeting with the Head Teacher, Priscilla, who would later go on to become his wife.
In the two years that Henry was the community police officer in Glacis and Laguna, he made such an impact that when the Commissioner wanted to move him elsewhere the community protested and demonstrated to have him kept on. “I had no idea how much of a difference I was going to make and because I had achieved so much in so little time, when the Commissioner decided to take me away the community wouldn’t have it.” Ultimately, Henry was made community officer for Upper Town. “I went on to police there for the next 15 years which is possibly the longest period of time that a community officer has ever served in one place,” he states. That was where Henry found his vocation for helping Moroccan families. “I have always been a lover of Morocco, so for me it was a way of helping in any way that I could, and I would visit the Plater Youth Club where they took in kids from the streets with nothing to do.”
In 1974 Henry first visited Morocco when he was an altar boy at St. Joseph’s School and he was asked to assist with a trip laid on by a club for underprivileged children. “I was only 14 but I loved it so much that I went back at every opportunity.” It was in Morocco ten years later that Henry learnt to belly dance, which added another aspect to his dance performances.
Later on, when Henry and Priscilla became a couple he realised she already had a passion for Morocco and its architecture, and five years ago when he retired from the Royal Gibraltar Police they bought a house in the Kasba in Tangier where they have become involved with an association called 100% Mamans which helps mothers who become pregnant out of wedlock and their children. “The charity has been running for over eighteen years and we were very impressed with how organised they were and how much good they were doing,” Henry explains. “For the past five years when we go over there our suitcases are full of baby clothes and things that they need, and I was able to get two knitting clubs in Gibraltar to make blankets for us to donate.” Henry says that they also take a cake every time they visit as that is the only occasion when the children have one. “We spend time with them and show them that there are people that care and that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that has become a very important part of what we do. It is not just about providing the physical needs but giving them psychological support in the best way that we can.”
When the Straits of Gibraltar Association was formed in Tangier they asked Henry and Priscilla to become Patrons. “We felt humbled and honoured to have been asked because it was like the crowning glory of all our work with Moroccan people,” Henry says.
Both Henry and Priscilla have been bestowed with the Gibraltar Award, one year after each other, making them the first couple to receive it on their own merit and not as a couple. Asked if he has a motto or ethos by which he lives his life he says: “I give unconditionally never expecting anything in return, it is a win-win situation because the moment anyone gives me something back it is a bonus – the moment you expect something – when you don’t get it you are disappointed.”
Among Henry’s other charitable commitments is acting as a Trustee for the Happiness Foundation which was set up by Success & Happiness Psychologist Kath Temple. “As Chairman of the National Association of Police Welfare Advisors I had the responsibility of organising an annual conference and a bi-annual workshop and Kath was the person that gave the final workshop before I retired.”
One of the proudest of Henry’s achievements is sponsoring an orphan through the children’s charity AKIN. “We put Barnabas through university and he then went on to have a little girl whom he named Priscilla and then a little boy whom he named Henry in appreciation of everything that we did for them,” Henry states. Two years ago we accompanied the Director of AKIN Les Roberts to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and met Barnabas, Glory his wife, and our ‘grandchildren’, and we are now in touch with them every day.”
As if all that wasn’t enough, the Sacramentos were on the organising committee of the first Gibraltar Pride. Henry explains that they have always been defenders of all minorities and that creed, colour of skin and sexual orientation has got nothing to do with how people should be treated. Their latest project was to become the faces of the Gibraltar Movember movement against prostate cancer.
“Looking back,” Henry says, “I probably had the most colourful career any police officer could have had, and the biggest box that I could tick was to make a difference in people’s lives.”