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Norkiah’s passing brings great sorrow, sadness to the family – Sim Kiang Chiok

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Sim (seated eighth left), the late Norkiah (seated ninth right) and Salahuddin (centre) with other hosts and guests at one of the celebrations in Kuching. – File photo courtesy of Sim Kiang Chiok

KUCHING (April 16): The passing of Toh Puan Datuk Patinggi Norkiah, wife of former Tuan Yang Di Pertua Negeri Tun Pehin Sri Abang Muhammad Salahuddin Abang Barieng, has brought great sorrow and sadness to his family, said Datuk Sim Kiang Chiok when paying tribute to the late Norkiah.

Sim, who is Sarawak Housing Estate Developers Association (Sheda) Kuching chairman, said the late Norkiah was in fact his aunty whom he fondly called ‘Ah Yee’.

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Norkiah was the biological sister of his mother Datin Clare Lim, he pointed out.

“She was my mother’s younger half sister and was raised by a Malay family from young. I have very little information on her and her family as my mother would not want to share much on her sister who was ‘given away’ or maybe she really didn’t know much about them as she was from another mother,” Sim explained.

“Then 21 years ago we managed to meet up for the first time. Then Toh Puan Sri had just married Tun Pehin Sri Salahuddin. Suddenly our family size grew following the meeting for the first time between Toh Puan Sri and my mum, since their birth.”

Although Norkiah was given up for adoption to a Malay family back in the early 50s, when the situations in those days were tough with some households having more than 10 children, it was not unusual for families to give away their children (particularly girls) to young couples who were not able to conceive their own, he said.

“A few months after the family meeting, Tun Pehin Sri Salahuddin was appointed as the Governor of Sarawak again (for the second time) and my late auntie’s life took a huge change. Her role changed drastically from a loving wife to Tun, but was elevated to First Lady of Sarawak.

“The late Toh Puan Sri was fortunate because her life story would become one that is reminiscent of the Cinderella story when she met, fell in love and married Tun Pehin Sri. She was Tun Pehin Sri’s second wife after his first wife had passed away,” Sim added.

“She was born into a poor Chinese family and given away to an equally poor Malay family and like Cinderella she ended up happy ever after in the Astana of Sarawak as the First Lady of Sarawak.

“She made sure that her years as First Lady were not wasted. She started her charity works, helped and touched so many lives like the orphans, elderly and the poor. She was generous, approachable, down to earth and putting others first.”

Since then, she had dedicated her life to the wellbeing of others, playing her role as the mother to all Sarawakians regardless of race or creed, Sim added.

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“Indeed Toh Puan’s life is part and parcel of Sarawak’s story. Hers is similar to that of Datin Amar Dato Hajjah Juma’ani Tuanku Haji Bujang, wife of the Chief Minister (Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg), who was also adopted by a Muslim family from a Chinese family.”

“My aunty and Tun Pehin Sri had brought much peace, harmony and unity of all Sarawakians. They would be joining my activities by lending their support especially during Inter-cultural Mooncake festival. They would not miss any of the annual celebrations held at Carpenter Street. They would grace dinner functions hosted by many associations that me and my late father Datuk Sim Swee Yong were involved in. Their show of love for all Sarawakians irrespective of race and religion is what makes us and Sarawakians unique and special,” added Sim.

“She was a shining example of our unity in diversity. Her upbringing in a Muslim and Malay family is very typical of our Sarawakian lifestyle in the early 50s and 60s when children were given for adoption due to poverty. This priceless practice is the saving grace of our bond and unity of all races in Sarawak. It has brought much peace, harmony and progress,” he further said.

The blood relation of Sarawakians is not just a rhetoric but a real phenomenon in Sarawak and although the giving away of children isn’t as common as it was before, the result of sharing in the early years of our history has united Sarawakians, he shared.

“That is unique and Sarawak is like no other place in Malaysia.”

Norkian passed away around 12pm on Wednesday at the Sarawak General Hospital here and was laid to rest at the Samariang Muslim cemetery. She was 72. She left behind her husband Tun Pehin Sri Salahuddin, five children and one grandchild.