IN the historical annals of the nation’s second oldest and the state’s earliest established educational institution, it would be recorded that St Thomas’ Secondary School, during its 1963-1969 batch (from Form 1 to Upper 6), had produced a prodigious number of distinguished statesmen and successful professionals.
The roll call of honour included the present Premier of the Sarawak, a former state secretary, two former mayors, state directors of various government agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), a former judicial commissioner, a Gallantry Award recipient, an author of dozens of books on Sarawak, as well as many highly successful business and qualified professionals both here and overseas.
It is an appropriate time to name and highlight some of them here – those who were between the ages of 12 and 14 in 1963 when Sarawak became part of an independent Malaysia; and today, as they turn between 72 and 74.
Certainly the ‘Numero Uno’, our beloved Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg, who took office in 2017, is still going strong leading the state and may he be blessed with many more years.
Abang Jo, as he is fondly known to all, had received his primary education at Sekolah Merpati Jepang in Kuching. In 1963, he was enrolled at St Thomas’ Secondary School, where he studied till Form 5. He then joined St Joseph’s School; his further education took him to Brunnel University in England where he obtained a Master’s in Business Management.
Tan Sri Datuk Amar Wilson Baya Dandot was a most studious and diligent classmate of ours and had later distinguished himself with multiple degrees and qualifications from institutions of higher learning from University of Western Australia in Perth, to Economics at University of Sussex in England, and then to the JFK School of Government at Harvard in Massachusetts, USA.
He rose to the ultimate position within the state government, that of State Secretary where he had served from 2007 to 2009; thereafter, with the Regional Corridor Development Authority (Recoda), followed by Borneo Diversity and Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK), and various other bodies.
He had also served multiple terms as chairman of the board of management of his alma mater St Thomas’ School, from 2009 to 2019. I was fortunate to take over this position from him in 2020.
Kuching is the only city in Malaysia with two mayors, each appointed to oversee the north and south of the sprawling city of nearly a million citizens combined.
For a period of eight years, both mayors had come from the same school, even attended the same class.
Datuk James Chan was nominated to office for Kuching South City Council (MBKS) and had served as Kuching South Mayor from 2008 to 2019, a period that had produced a great many changes in the council.
His counterpart, Datuk Abang Abdul Wahap Abang Julai, was appointed Datuk Bandar of Kuching North, and was in office at Kuching North City Commission (DBKU) from 2011 to 2019.
James Chan was headhunted from a former timber corporation, whereas Abdul Wahap had a distinguished career at the Housing Commission. Both had performed their duties admirably and served their respective MBKS and DBKU well during their terms of office.
Datu Winsel Ahtos had gone to the Universiti Malaya for his further studies and upon joining the civil service, had risen to the position of director of Department of Drainage and Irrigation (DID).
He had also involved himself with church voluntary work, and also sits on the school management board. Today, he is a successful professional running his own company together with his other charitable works. He is a keen golfer and travels a bit.
Dato Goh Leng Chua was one of our most outstanding classmates very early in school – he must have been just 16 when he was already riding his own Kawasaki motorbike to classes – a sort of John Travolta in his day! Of course, he too was an early bloomer with girlfriend (now beloved wife Datin Mary) riding pillion behind him.
He had proven himself many times over, became a successful lawyer and was, for a time, a political adviser to Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP). He has slowly relinquished some of his own business links (including a seat on Tan Sri Clement Hii’s public listed company) but continues to actively pursue his personal interests. He has close links in the corridors of power.
Philip Yong is the youngest son of political giant Tan Sri Stephen Yong, but had chosen not to be actively involved in politics. Today, he is a well-established and very successful businessman and operates Borneo Adventure, which is one of Sarawak’s oldest and longest established inbound travel companies. He has held various positions of influence on boards of the tourism industry and I consider him one of Sarawak’s greatest ‘influencer and promoter’ overseas.
I am still aghast that after his many years of having successfully promoted tourism for Sarawak, he has not been ‘officially’ decorated or recognised by the authorities in any form or manner.
Abang Affandi Abang Anuar had served a successful career at the Housing Commission before he was seconded to become the deputy mayor of Kuching South during the same time as James Chan.
Yusuf Sobeng was heading Malaysian Agriculture Research and Development Institute (Mardi) in Sarawak, and later, CRAUN research, and had an illustrious career in the field of agricultural research both here and in Peninsular Malaysia.
John Ko Wai Seng, a lawyer and once chairman of the Sarawak Advocates Chapter, had also served a brief term as a judicial commissioner in Sabah; he still practices law in a private capacity.
Douglas Telajan had served in the Ministry of Education for a long time, and now, serves as vice-president of the Sarawak Lawn Tennis Association, and also holds vital positions in the Anglican Diocese of Kuching and the St Thomas’ School Board.
James Alexander Ritchie had only joined us in Form 6, but had already made an impression of himself as a renegade. Today he is a fellow writer/columnist and a prolific author of many books on Sarawak. He had worked at the New Straits Times as a journalist, and for a time, in then-Chief Minister of Sarawak’s Public Relations Department.
Many of my former classmates have migrated and have found success and happiness overseas.
Among them, I would consider Edward Chai as one of the most successful and accomplished.
He had initially migrated to Vancouver, Canada and later relocated to Taipei, where he had founded his own direct marketing company called ‘Diamond Lifestyle’. In 2017, the ‘Entrepreneur’ magazine of the USA had named him as one of the ‘World’s Most Admired International Business Person’ (there were only 37 names on the list) – joining the ranks of Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk and Robert Kiyosaki.
Vashdev Khialani had returned to his parents’ abode in Singapore and became a highly successful professional in his capacity and also rose to become the president of the Singapore Sindhi Association. He returns regularly to join us in our class reunions.
Others would include Datin Ang Bee Lian, whose public-listed pharmaceutical company, ‘Duopharma’ was sold for over RM200 million many years back, is herself a highly successful businesswoman with a degree in pharmacy. She is the youngest daughter of Ang Cheng Hoe, the Kuching philanthropist and multi-millionaire; her brother is Dato Seri Ang Lai Soon, himself a highly respected and distinguished Kuchingite who is president of the St John’s Ambulance, among other charitable organisations.
David Ting, who now resides in Shanghai, had for a time lived in the USA; he was in fact responsible during the early days of the VCRs for bringing into northern America the first available videotapes of a budding Bruce Lee in his early films ‘The Big Boss’ and ‘Fists of Fury’.
Today, he is a successful businessman based in China’s largest city and travels back to Kuching infrequently.
Andrew Wong Chee Kong had left our shores early, around 1967 after form 5, and found his way to Los Angeles where he had a long and successful career in the hospitality industry. He has just retired and now spends his time visiting friends around the world.
Andrew Wong is my same age, but if you chance upon seeing him walking with me on the streets of Kuching, you’d mistake him for my son – he’s that youthful-looking! We call him our ‘Peter Pan’ – he’s found the magic fountain of youth!
I’d like to conclude with tributes to those who have left us – honouring them, posthumously, in my roll-call:
- Hakim Ibrahim, former Marine Police chief;
- Paul Chan Kok Po, Bintulu-based lawyer;
- Wilfred Gomez Malong, lawyer and Gallantry Award holder, and;
- Philip Chang Foh Phin, architect and former SUPP Kuching branch chairman.
We pay our respects to our fellow classmates who have left us and remember them all with deep fondness in our hearts. For the living, we say May God continue to bless us all abundantly and keep us all in good health.