Gloria Ong, educator, disciplinarian, mastor cook
By Edgar Ong
This week I am taking the liberty to pen a very personal article in remembering the life of the one person who’s had the most influence in my life. Without her I won’t be who I am or where I am today – my dearest mother, who left us 4 years ago but will always remain in our hearts and our fondest memories.
My mother was born Gloria Tan Lee Kheng, the youngest daughter in a Teochew family of Mr & Mrs Tan Cheng Pun, in a big family of 4 boys and 3 other girls. She was the darling of the family, the apple of her parent’s eye and had been nicknamed “Ayang” after the Malay term Dayang by which she was known by her siblings throughout her life.
Mum was very close to her mother (our so-called “Pasat” Ah Mah) who had come from the small town of Batu Niah. Grandma was of Melanau heritage. We would spend Friday nights visiting her at Tabuan Road during our childhood – and today we hold many fond memories of the times spent there as well as those during the many Chinese festival weekends with our many cousins, uncles and aunties.
Mum was educated at St Mary’s and was a Girl Guide; that’s where she first met my Dad, Ong Kee Bian, who was then a St Thomas’s student and a Boys Scout as well! After school she had started teaching at the Hokkien Chinese School and later moved to St Thomas’s Primary (English) school in the 1950’s where she taught for 38 years until her retirement in the mid 1980s.
It was as a school teacher that Mum had made such a huge impact on the lives of thousands of her students – which had included my brothers Edric, Edmund and myself as well as my son Dylan, her very first grandson. She chose to be a teacher and her passion for education had balanced evenly with her even more ardent love for her family – so that we could have spent more time together during the school holidays. Mum’s many students had spoken very highly of her during her lifetime and I was very pleasantly surprised that upon news of her passing on 26th August 2014 at age 85 many of her past students had sent messages of condolence to both Edric’s and my Facebook social media as well as hundreds of text messages to our family during the mourning period.
Besides her passion for her family, and for reading and music; she is dearly missed for her incredible cooking – be it Peranakan, Asian or Western dishes – her distinct and innovative touch would give every dish she prepared a special “Mum” touch and taste which none other could have compared. She had kept her own “Recipe Notebook” written in longhand.
During the many Food Fairs held in raising funds for the school over the 30-odd years at St Thomas’s she had been much sought after for her famous Hokkien mee; her special Kay-See Mee and her Victorian sponge cakes! Students who were picked to help at her stall were very much envied and were proud to be enlisted despite her strict and disciplinarian nature in school (and at home too!)
I am truly grateful for a mother who was steadfast and true in supporting our various life choices – as each of my siblings had pursued their own individual interests and life-styles and ambitions to their hearts’ desires! She was always there to cheer us on! It was not easy for her to have raised five highly individualistic and very competitive children while being a school teacher who had to switch from teaching in Mandarin to English and then to Bahasa!
Ultimately as a mother she had the unenviable task of trying to make each and every one of the five of us that each one of us was very special – to her and to the world!
Later in life she was able to break away from a very traditional Taoist family upbringing to become a born again Christian and to so passionately join her new family in Christ as she plunged head-on into teaching in Sunday school, singing in the choir and together with my Dad serving in Gideons International. This had meant that our family home was open to many visiting priests and speakers and for pray and praise meetings and other church activities too many to name.
Mum was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease in her early 70’s. So began a long period of perseverance which had challenged the bond of our strong family ties and also our geographically challenged siblings – Edrea my sister who lived in Switzerland; Edmund my brother practising medicine in England and Edwina my sister in Singapore. My brother Edric although staying with my parents had to frequently travel far and wide over long absences for his chosen mission in life. My Dad her unwavering life’s partner, her rock and anchor had in his 70’s undergone a heart bypass CABG procedure and in his later years suffered from an age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that had drastically affected his eyesight thereby limiting his mobility. He had never left her side.
Our mother had over the most part of our formative years taught us three vital values in life which we all treasure up till this day, and in turn we hope that our children and our children’s children will carry on with this torch.
Firstly, to be always humble and be kind and caring; to be non-judgmental towards the people whom you will meet from all the different levels and stations in life – these will be the same people who will be there with you during your good times and your bad.
Secondly, she had enabled all of us to appreciate the best and the finer things in life – our love for reading, of listening to music and for enjoying movies as well as the creative arts in all its many varied forms. These interests she had impressed upon us will enliven, will embolden and will enrich our respective lives and will endure for us to find fulfilment and lifelong happiness.
Thirdly she taught us about family values – that the family unit should always come first, second and last. We are fortunate that we have a tight-knit family and we pray for our future generations that this bond will continue for our ever growing family. Despite many trying and turbulent times as a family we have always managed to overcome and to survive these hurdles and these impediments. For all this we owe her our everything.
In closing I must say that it was a very long goodbye to my Mum – it was fourteen years since the day that she had started to forget our names and our faces and the day she left us – and having had all of your memories completely wiped clean as a slate. I do believe that carved on that very same slate in huge and gigantic letters are these words we have for her –
MUM WE WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU, AND YOUR SPIRIT WILL ALWAYS DWELL WITHIN US. Amen.