Meet the Locals: Manuel Afonso

Manuel Afonso is 87 years young and has lived in Lagos since 1971. He has just been presented with a rare award that his family believes should be celebrated.

As the owner of the BP petrol station on the N125 between Lagos and Odiáxere, Manuel Afonso has witnessed many changes. He was born in Serra da Malcata, an inland municipality which has one of the highest elevations on mainland Portugal forming part of the Portuguese/Spanish mountain system of Meseta. He was one of six children (three boys and three girls). As was the norm in those days, he left school aged 10 when he started work. As a young man, Sr Afonso worked in Beja and was employed by Mobil, refuelling planes. He married his late wife Maria do Céu on 22 January, 1966. 

While working for Mobil, he was offered the opportunity to move to Lagos and run their petrol station, which later became BP. As a result, he moved to the Algarve with his wife and one-year-old son José Manuel Gomes Afonso and has grown the business for the last 53 years. He also grew his family with a daughter: Fátima Maria Gomes Afonso, who was born in the Algarve.

From 1971, Manuel Afonso ran the petrol station as an employee before buying it in 2004. In 1991, his son José came into the business and started working with his parents. In 2002, José helped his parents expand the business and they bought Portimão petrol station. In 2008, Fátima joined the family business, working alongside her father in Lagos. Other petrol stations were subsequently purchased: Porches in 2010, Penina in 2013 and Lagos Avenida in 2018. 

I ask Sr Afonso about the changes he has seen in half a century. When he arrived in Lagos, it was a small, quiet city with very few cars on the road. The roads were so quiet that, when José was a little boy, his parents would get him to count passing cars on the N125 as the sight was quite rare. Business and transit has changed a lot! In those days, the majority of vehicles filling their tanks were tractors and agricultural vehicles, while donkeys and carts would still have been a common sight on the roads. Slowly, he has seen more and more cars pass by his petrol station and this trend was greatly accelerated when the A22 came to Lagos in 2003.

He remembers that, in the 1970s, the main car brands on the road were Toyota, VW and Daihatsu. Technology has developed a lot since then. Back then, the pumps were manned by the employees of the petrol stations. In those days, diesel cost 2 escudos per litre, which is around 1 cent now, and petrol was 8 escudos, around 4 cents. He recalls that the quality of the roads meant that you would struggle to be able to accelerate over 100 km per hour.

Manuel Afonso’s 50 years of service was recognised at BP’s Christmas 2022 meeting in Lisbon when he received a long-service award from the CEO Silvia Barata. He was accompanied by José and Fátima. It was a proud moment with a lot of emotion. 

The BP area manager for Algarve Hugo Fernandes presenting the framed award

His daughter-in-law Sammie Afonso speaks for the family when she says, “We as a family are very proud of him and his ongoing work. At 87 he still works seven days a week at the Lagos petrol station. That’s dedication!!”

Today, Manuel Afonso and his family are big supporters of Tomorrow’s charity TACT and have donated large sums regularly at fundraising events. The octogenarian explains this generosity is because “it helps the local community”. 

His daughter-in-law concludes, “My father-in-law is an incredible man as a father, father-in-law and grandfather; we are so blessed to have him in our lives. He is the most selfless person and always tries to help others, but family is his first priority.” 

All of us at Tomorrow congratulate Sr Afonso on this monumental achievement. He is one of the early entrepreneurs of Lagos and we look forward to seeing his empire continue for many years to come.

Main image: The three owners of the petrol stations Fátima Monteiro, Manuel Afonso and José Afonso


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