13 Mar 2023

It is with great sadness that we learnt of the passing last Saturday of Bernie Fienberg, following a heart attack at home in Brisbane. Bernie was the Union’s Referees’ Manager from 1999 to 2014 during which time he played a central role in the development of both the quantity and quality of match officials in Hong Kong, and across the region through his work for Asia Rugby.

Bernie worked tirelessly and selflessly across all levels of the game - one day he’d be running an introductory course for school students, the next he’d be coaching our international panel referees.  He worked seven days a week, but then again he never really saw it as work; the rugby community, particularly the Referees’ Society and the Union staff, were his second family and he loved being out there on the pitch, in the classroom, in the bar…contributing, helping, doing his bit. He had a mischievous sense of humour, the most brilliant self-deprecating stories, and loved a joke and a wind-up. He was a proud Aussie, always buying the Union staff Lamington cakes on Anzac Day, but equally loved Hong Kong and the friends he made here. He travelled widely across the region with his great pal Jarrad Gallagher, running education courses and assisting at tournaments, and many unions owe Bernie a debt of gratitude for his generous assistance.


We often forgot how good a referee he was, although if you stumbled across him officiating a school game on a weekday afternoon at the Valley, you saw glimpses of what he could do, and he did love to remind his mates that he got a mention in John Eales’ biography…he may not have reffed a full test match, but he got close (if only he’d remembered to wear his shorts under his tracksuit), and he was involved in officiating at the very highest level of World Cups and the Commonwealth Games. What gave Bernie the greatest reward was not his own accolades but seeing the growth and success of his protégés and mentees - he took huge pride in their achievements, and he deserves immense credit for the “conveyor belt” of talent Hong Kong produced during his tenure and beyond, in particular Gabriel Lee-Lehner who made it all the way to the Rio Olympics.


Bernie von Finkelstein - you touched many lives, introduced many “newbies” to our wonderful sport, left a lasting legacy, and you were a great mate. Our thoughts are with Pam, family and friends – RIP.