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My teacher, Bob Lynn

by Phang Chung Shin. Posted on June 11, 2012, Monday

TANJONG Lobang School in Miri was one of the first schools to enjoy the services of Peace Corps volunteers and one of those who joined the teaching staff of Tanjong Lobang School in 1964 was Bob Lynn.

Bob Lynn, Simple, Relaxed & Easy-going

HAPPY COUPLE: Bob Lynn with his wife, Siew Jyu, girl from Miri

Bob Lynn took over our English Literature class in mid 1965. Two things about Bob Lynn struck me when I first met him. One was his look.

Not the dashing American young man I had expected, Bob Lynn actually came across as too simple in his attire, sporting a plain short-sleeved shirt and a pair of equally non-descript shorts but his brown-rimmed spectacles gave him an aura of scholarship, and, (this is important), he smoked a pipe.

Secondly, Bob Lynn was relaxed and easy going in his mannerism so that we, the students, felt easy and relaxed with him. It encouraged us to open up, to engage and to explore.

I think Bob Lynn’s classes had given us the vital experience of free learning, free thinking, free sharing, and above all, making mistakes freely.

We welcomed the change and eagerly looked forward to being challenged by Bob Lynn with his engaging questions.

Looking back, I can still picture Bob Lynn, pipe in hand, asking. “Mr Phang, does Othello qualify as a tragic hero, if so, why ?”

Bob Lynn also taught us General Paper, which involved endless essay writing, critical appraisal of passages and paraphrasing. Our papers were marked and returned promptly.

It was not easy to score with Bob Lynn but it was also not easy not to improve with the intensive writing and reading drills we received.

It was the most productive and crucial period in my student days. The one and a half years with Bob Lynn, and, I must add, the late Robert Nicholl, the principal who took my history class, not only enhanced my writing, reading and overall language skill, it also amply prepared me well for my university work which required our own independent research and study.

Yale graduate school

FOR THE ALBUM: Bob Lynn (second right) with the author (extreme left) at the commencement of the latter’s daughter, Stephanie, at Haverford.

Bob Lynn interacted very well with us informally, was so easy to get along with that we were drawn towards him.

He always smiled and greeted us first and would call us Mr so and so.

It was this warm demeanor of his that started a life-long friendship I had with him.

I really admired him for his simple life style, making us feel that he was one of us.

He was allocated a very tiny wooden house (more like a hut) with the most basic facilities but was completely happy with it.

This gentleman with a Masters degree from Yale university was completely at ease with his simple living quarters and bare subsistence allowance that we, who were from underprivileged background, found refreshing and inspiring.

Besides teaching, Bob Lynn was himself a very keen learner. He self-studied mandarin from a book compiled by Peace Corps and, with the aid of a tape recorder, would speak, tape, and replay words and phrases during his free time.

My help was enlisted to correct his pronunciation and converse in mandarin with him.

STAFF FROM YESTERYEARS: Bob Lynn (third right, middle row) in Tanjong Lobang School staff photo 1965-66

It was an interesting experience and I was impressed by his enthusiasm, discipline, persistence, and above all, humility in getting his student to guide him.

Always helpful and attentive, Bob Lynn was a good advisor and confidant.

I personally told him many of my concerns when I was making choices in the universities I was considering to attend.

He offered information, talked about prospects and left it to me to decide, something I learned to do later in life with others.

Peace Corps Volunteers had two-year contracts with our government, but at the end of his two-year stint at Tanjong Lobang School, Bob Lynn liked it and asked for an extension and was given a further two years.

He then moved to Singapore where he first taught in a secondary school before moving on to teach at Nantah, now Nanyang University of Technology.

WHERE IT ALL HAPPENED: Tanjong Lobang school, mid 1960’s. Peace Corps Volunteers lived in the two tiny wooden houses seen at left.

Bob Lynn later married a girl from Miri, Siew Jyu, and he said the marriage was the best outcome of his Peace Corps years. They have two children, Teresa and Andy.

While he was working in Singapore, he played host to many of us passing through, picking us from the airport, housing us, feeding us, and taking us around. Many ex-Tanjong students fondly remember this.

Mohidin, a student, wrote to Bob Lynn: “A very belated ‘thank you’ for the welcome and for looking after the five students who were on transit in Singapore many many years ago.

“We have not forgotten the help and your taking time off to take us shopping…..and it was my first time taking Chinese tea.”

Bob Lynn cared enough to look up people and to keep in touch.

Another student, Chong Hoi Hee, Dr, wrote:

“Bob Lynn was a teacher in TLS while I was a student there, but I was not in any of the classes he taught. I got to know him only later after both of us had left TLS.

In 1973 I was working in Kuching General Hospital when Bob and wife, Siew Jyu, dropped in out of the blue to say hello. Siew Jyu was a year my junior in both TLS and the Medical Faculty of University of Malaya.

In subsequent years we met up many times in Miri when Bob and Siew Jyu spent periods of weeks caring for Siew Jyu’s aging parents.

Mr Richard Tze, former teacher at TLS, once made this most succinct observation, ‘Bob is more Chinese than most Chinese-sons-in law!’

When my daughter went to study in USA, I asked Bob and Siew Jyu to be her guardians and I knew that if ever she needed assistance, they would be there.

In 2005, my wife, my daughter, and I were their house guests in Baltimore, USA, for a most enjoyable week.

From the recollection of other ex-Tanjongs, I have gathered that he too, has been a friend to many of us all through the many years since leaving TLS.

He sent a gift from Singapore to Ann and Patrick Panai for their wedding, a gift much treasured by them.

He played host and guide for Mohidin and friends in Singapore on their maiden overseas trip.

He and Siew Jyu made long journeys regularly to the nursing home to visit our beloved ex-TLS Matron Miss McConkey until her passing at the ripe old age of almost 100 in 2008.

He is always pleased to meet up with anyone of us and remains always our friend.

Aren’t we all lucky to have had Bob Lynn, a great friend.”

Circle completed

Somehow after Singapore, Bob Lynn and I lost contact. When my eldest daughter, Stephanie, applied to study in the US, one of the colleges she applied for was Haverford College, Bob Lynn’s undergrad school.

Why?

Because I told her that it was a great school and was Bob Lynn’s alma mater. She was accepted by various colleges but chose Haverford College.

I told her to look up and make contact with Bob Lynn through the college.

She contacted the alumni office of the college who gave her Bob Lynn’s number.

She called. Bob Lynn answered. When Stephanie said “I am Chung Shin’s daughter….”,Bob Lynn’s first words were “Son of a gun…”.

A few weeks later Bob Lynn, who was staying in Wilmington, North Carolina then, drove all the way to Haverford College to pick her up to spend the spring break at his place.

And Stephanie stayed over at their place over Thanks-giving and Christmas a few times over the years she was in the States.

Bob’s family also drove from Baltimore to attend Stephanie’s commencement at Haverford, met us there, and took us to his home where we spent a few days with them.

That, I think, completes the circle of the Bob Lynn-Chung Shin saga.

Making Real Differences in the Lives of Real People

Peace Corps Volunteers’ stated objective was to “travel overseas to make real differences in the lives of real people.”

Many of them have successfully brought about real changes to the lives of those they touched and it went beyond their works in the classrooms, in the farms, in youth organizations.

In opening up to us, in being interested in us like we were their own, in being of help, in making us accept them and trust them, in short in being great friends, they have contributed tremendously towards our growth and development.

President John F Kennedy’s lofty aspirations “to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for manpower” have been ably and amply fulfilled through such great friends and mentors like Bob Lynn.

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