KOTA KINABALU: Former La Salle Tanjung Aru principal, Brother Datuk Charles Michael O’Leary passed away yesterday morning shortly after attending daily morning mass at Stella Maris Church in Tanjung Aru here.
It is believed that the 78-year-old Brother Charles had collapsed after suffering from a stroke between 7.30 am and 8am. He was found lying beside his car by a newspaper delivery man.
Church workers were then notified, before paramedics and the police came.
According to fellow La Salle Brother Peter Foo, Charles had gone to the daily 6am mass at Stella Maris church and was the last to leave at about 7.30am.
The news of Brother Charles’ death greeted the Lasallian community, far and near, with a numbing feeling.
“It is a sad day for the Lasallian family in Kota Kinabalu, for we have lost an outstanding educationist and a great teacher of men,” said SM La Salle’s excellent principal, Julia Willie Jock.
Julia, who had been serving as principal for eight years, also said: “A Man for Others’ best describe Brother Charles, for he has dedicated his whole life to serving God and to educating the young. I will miss a great friend and a mentor, and his sense of humour.”
As for Ho Kin Wong, chairman of SM La Salle board of governors, the passing of “the uncommon man who was loved and will be fondly cherished” is a testament of the impact Brother Charles had imparted on his life, as he will be deeply missed but never forgotten.
Daniel Tan, chairman of Sacred Heart Primary board of governors, also offered his condolences: “Brother Charles’ passing is a great loss for us in the La Salle family and the country. His contribution to education is legendary. I feel a deep personal loss at losing a great teacher and good brethren.”
Meanwhile, Ram Singh, a senior lawyer, recalled being punished by Brother Charles back in 1979, before their final examination (MCE).
“Each of us was given an envelope to fill with stones from the grassy assembly area. Obviously, there wasn’t a single pebble there,” Ram recalled laughingly.
“However, said Ram, with his guidance and strong discipline, he endorsed me as the 17th Chief Minister of the La Salle parliament.”
Ram said that Brother Charles had placed no boundary on race or religion, and he also thanked his former teacher for the person he (Ram) is today.
“He will also be forever remembered by our class of ’79,” he said.
Brother Charles will be fondly remembered for his passionate way of educating us, said Lasallian Ernesto Faurillo from the class of ’67, though we were not appreciative of his ways at the time. From this class of ’67, Brother Charles taught former Head of State Tun Ahmadshah Abdullah, and former Chief Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok.
Another fellow Lasallian said that he was indebted to Brother Charles for shaping him from a poor kampung boy to the person he has become.
“I will remember him forever and the good deeds that he rendered unconditionally,” said Bobby Gua Hui.
Not many can claim to have have taught a Chief Minister, but in his 16 years of service as the principal of La Salle, Brother Charles had taught not only one but three former Chief Ministers, including a former Head of State.
They are deputy Chief Minister cum PBS president Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan, former UPKO president and former federal minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok and former Yang Di-Pertua Negeri Sabah, Tun Ahmad Shah Abdullah. Brother Charles had also taught Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, who is now the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak.
Brother Charles came to Borneo with a pioneer group of La Salle Brothers, of which he was the last surviving member. His educational influence even extends to Sarawak, where the present Sarawak Governor, Tun Taib Mahmud, was among his list of students at St Joseph’s Kuching.
He played a vital role in setting up the school in Tanjung Aru here in 1958, after the La Salle Brothers took over from the Mill Hill Fathers.
Brother Charles served as the school principal from 1969 to 1985, making him the longest-standing La Salle principal to date. Following his retirement, he continued to actively serve as the patron of the Association of Ex-Students of La Salle and Sacred Heart and advisor to SM La Salle board of governors.