December 10, 2004
THE former Portuguese President Mário Soares prefaced a biography of Fernando Valle with a vignette from the founding congress of his Socialist Party (PS) in 1973. Chairing the closing session, Valle began not with “Dear comrades”, but “dear brethren” — a slip of the tongue attesting to his lifelong immersion in Freemasonry.
At the time of his death, Valle was in his fifth year as honorary president of the PS and was almost certainly the longest-serving Mason in the world; not quite the oldest living member of the brotherhood, but his initiation dated back to March 1923. For most of his adult lifetime, both Freemasonry and socialism were clandestine undercurrents in Portugal. Valle found in Masonic life not only a useful preparation for underground politics but the vital principles of “liberty, equality and fraternity”, expressed in the liberal and republican tradition of the Lusitanian Grand Orient.
Born in Cerdeira, in the central region of Arganil where he was to spend most of his life, Valle inherited both his leftist leanings and his medical vocation from his father, Alberto. Portugal became a republic when he was 10, and as a student at the University of Coimbra he mingled with radical intellectuals and was sworn into the Revolta lodge, adhering to the post-Enlightenment French Rite.
He began his medical practice in 1926, the year of the military coup that led to the fascist dictatorship proclaimed by Oliveira Salazar in 1933. As a general practitioner in Arganil, and eventually director of the Misericórdia hospital, Valle followed his father’s example by treating patients without regard to their ability to pay.
As Salazar’s Estado Novo set about extinguishing all visible opposition, members of the resistance found a safe house with the modest family doctor. As early as 1947, he supported an unsuccessful effort to form a socialist party, and on the rare occasions when the regime permitted alternative candidatures, Valle supported anti-fascist contenders. In 1962 he even stood as a parliamentary candidate for Coimbra, but spent several months in prison when the political police (PIDE) were informed of his links with the secret communist-led Patriotic Front.
Valle had several run-ins with the PIDE and was more than once dismissed from posts in the public health service. In 1971 he was dismissed from the Misericordia — but local women organised a courageous demonstration and petition to win his reinstatement. Meanwhile he was conspiring with Mário Soares and others in the Acção Socialista movement, and was the oldest of 27 delegates to make it to the clandestine congress held “somewhere in Germany” (Bad M ünstereifel) in April 1973 to create the new PS.
The virtually bloodless “revolution of the carnations” that ended Portugal’s dictatorship in 1974 came shortly before Valle’s retirement. He reluctantly accepted appointment as civil governor of Coimbra in 1976-80 and refused a nomination for the presidency of the republic.
His wife Beatriz predeceased him, as did two of their six children.
Dr Fernando Baeta Cardoso do Valle, medical practitioner, was born on July 30, 1900. He died on November 26, 2004, aged 104.