A Fond Tribute to Dr Lim Chong Eu, the Founder of Modern Penang

November 25, 2010


A Fond Tribute to Tun Lim Chong Eu, Founder of Modern Penang  and a Towering Malaysian

by Sharanjit Singh, Audrey Dermawan and Looi Sue Chern–news@nst.com.my

Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu (1919-2010), the man behind Penang’s growth from a little-known island state to a model of economic success, has died. He was 91.

The charismatic politician was widely regarded as a father figure who transcended ethnic boundaries and religious or cultural differences.

Dr Lim’s eldest son, Lim Chien Aun, said his father was brought home to the family house from Penang Hospital at 6pm and died at 9pm. Dr Lim had been hospitalised since Oct 26 after suffering a stroke and had been in a coma since.

His death closes an important chapter in Penang’s history as Dr Lim was instrumental in Penang’s economic development when he was chief minister.  Although he retired from politics 20 years ago, his name still echoes in Penang, a state he gave a major makeover during his many years as chief minister.

He transformed Penang from an economy that depended solely on its free-port status to an urbanised and industrialised state good enough to be known as the Silicon Valley of Malaysia. Dr Lim gave Penang factories, brought in multinationals and set up the state government’s investment arm, Penang Development Corporation.

It was his hard work and the sound foundation he laid all those years that the big names people see today — such as Intel, Motorola, Advanced Micro Devices, Robert Bosch, Seagate and Renesas Semiconductor — are in the Bayan Lepas industrial zone.
Dr Lim also gave the state a structure most Penangites see every day: the state’s first skyscraper, the 65-storey Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak (Komtar). In its heyday, Komtar was the tallest building in Asia, standing at 232m when it was completed in 1986.

It was also during his tenure as chief minister that the multi-million ringgit Komtar project began to take shape as an integrated development, comprising business, retail space and offices to provide a centralised administrative and civic centre for Penangites.

Once completed, all local, state and Federal Government departments in Penang were place under the same roof in Komtar. Dr Lim was Penang’s longest-serving chief minister, leading the state and shaping its identity for 21 years from 1969 to 1990.

He was indeed a towering politician and leader who had braved through stormy weather for five terms. Born on May 28, 1919, in Penang, Dr Lim was educated at Penang Free School, where he was King’s Scholar in 1937. He later studied at Edinburgh University in Scotland, where he obtained his degrees in medicine and surgery in 1944.

Dr Lim was educated at the Penang Free School

His colourful political journey began after his return to Penang. He was appointed to the Penang Local Council in 1951 and then the federal legislature in 1955, representing Penang and as chief whip for the Alliance.

During that time, he was also a practising medical doctor, serving in the Malayan Auxiliary Air Force from 1951 until 1954 before going into private practice.

At age 39, Dr Lim, who was with MCA at the time, challenged incumbent Tun Tan Cheng Lock for the party presidency and won with only a 22-vote majority in 1958.

He called an extraordinary general meeting to amend the party constitution, which led to objections and a split in the party. During his one-year tenure as MCA president, he and then prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman also had political differences.

The tensions escalated on the eve of the 1959 general election when Dr Lim demanded 40 parliamentary seats and that Mandarin be made an official language. When he rejected Tunku Abdul Rahman’s allocation of 31 seats instead of the original 28, the relationship between the two worsened.

In December 1960, he left MCA and two years later, formed the United Democratic Party. In 1968, he became one of the founding members of Gerakan, which started out as an opposition party against the ruling Alliance.

Despite being a new party, Gerakan captured Penang in the 1969 general election, making Dr Lim, who was the party’s president, the new chief minister, succeeding Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee.

Life after that was not a honeymoon and Dr Lim was forced to make a decision that changed Gerakan’s political direction and Penang’s fate as an opposition state. In 1973, Gerakan joined the newly set up Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, becoming a partner to former political rivals MCA, UMNO and MIC.

Under his leadership, the party remained in power in Penang until he retired from politics in 1990 after the general election that year, following his loss in Padang Kota, a state constituency he had defended since 1969.

He was succeeded by his former political secretary, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, who was Penang’s third chief minister until March 2008.

Those who had met Dr Lim and knew him would likely remember him as a person who was serious with his job, straight to the point, rarely showed his emotions in public and so sharp that he could put people with specialised degrees to shame.

He was fondly known as the “old man” by members of his party, a reference used in grudging respect for what he had accomplished for Penang, where he had spent many years polishing the “pearl” so it would continue to shine after him.

Dr Lim had always known that the future was going to be a challenging one for Malaysians. In his speech on national integration at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in 1995, he described himself as an “old bee that lingered in an environment best to build his hive”, but in the next 25 years as the nation moved towards 2020, the people would become very “busy bees”. With just that, Malaysians would be successful in the future, he had said.

After his retirement, Dr Lim concentrated on business and was chairman and adviser to several large corporations. He was pro-chancellor of USM from 1994 to 1999, and was conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Law. Dr. Lim was also conferred the “Doctorate in Honoris Causa” by his alma mater, Edinburgh University, and even received a medal from Emperor Akihito of Japan. In 2007, when Gerakan opened its Wawasan Open University, Dr Lim was named founding chancellor.

He is survived by his wife Toh Puan Goh Sing Yeng and four children: Chien Aun, Chien Cheng, Pao Lin and Pao Yen.

18 thoughts on “A Fond Tribute to Dr Lim Chong Eu, the Founder of Modern Penang

  1. Our condolences to my friend, Dato Lim Chong Keat and members of Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu’s bereaved family. Those of us who knew that the late Tun know that he was a great visionary and a truly towering Malaysian.

    It is indeed a fitting honour for this grand “Old Man” that the Penang Government under Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng should give him a state funeral. Dr. Lim was among the best of his generation and made immense contributions to Penang when he was the Chief Minister for 21 years (1969-1990). The Komtar Building symbolises the coming of age of Penang as a modern and progressive state, and today dominates the skyline of Georgetown. And Dr Lim was indeed Penang’s modern day founder.–Din Merican

  2. Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu is a true Malaysian patriot, heart and soul.

    His name will be linked to the modernisation of Penang for a long time to come.

    History will look kindly to him. Of course, you can’t expect historians like Khoo Kay Kim to admit that.

  3. …as a young man in Penang in the Sixties, the skyscraper was the Downing St building. When it was opened, the top floors were off limits to the public. To prevent suicides I guess.

    But its a pity that the KOMTAR which displaced so many quaint little shops and businesses in the name of development, has degraded to another dingy, shabby place befitting the no-maintenance mentality that pervades local society.

    Guess there are other legacies of his that should be better remembered.

  4. Frank, there will be people who will try to demean Dr. Lim. That is to be expected because we have small minds with big heads. Dr. Lim record can never be challenged. He did a lot for Penang, only to be let down by his private secretary, Koh Tsu Khoon who later became Chief Minister of Penang.

    When I was in Bank Negara, I used to accompany the late Tun Ismail, the legendary Bank Negara Governor to Penang. While in Penang, Tun Ismail would have private dinners with Dr. Lim. It was indeed great to hear the two friends talk about their experiences in the United Kingdom during the war and Dr. Lim’s plans for the development of Penang as the hub for multinationals and electronics.

    My friends, Dato Chet Singh as General Manager, Penang Development Corporation and Special Officer seconded from the Malaysian Civil Service,Dato Ahmad Khairummuzamil Yusof were two key professionals who worked closely with Dr. Lim. They had nothing but praise for Dr. Lim’s vision and professionalism. He was tough and demanding, they said. Dr. Lim was all for Penang, which had nurtured and educated him (at the Penang Free School).–Din Merican

  5. Yes, as a Penangite, we salute Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu and may he rest in peace and may the Great Lord bless his soul.

    The only black speck in his legacy was the appointment of Koh Tsu Koon who led the state for 15 years and nothing to shout about except granting hillside developments that ruined the environment.

  6. Sentinel

    Yes, I agree with you. Koh Tsu Koon is a letdown. Spineless and totally got no clue about himself and about his surroundings.

    My primary schoolteacher would say, ” Useless bum”.

  7. Our great salution to the Tun Lim Cheong Eu – Bapa Industri Pulau Pinang.

    spainless Koh sit for 18 years.. but often bow to state kompnu.

    LGE has bring back our rakyat dignity and uphold the rakyat interests.

  8. KT Koon is more suitable to be a professor / lecturer/ guru besar or SUHAKAM head and be famous.

    a boneless person should not sit on the cm chair.

  9. Malaysiakini reported Parliament observed one minute of silence at 11.35am today to pay its respects to the Chong Eu, who was former member of parliament for Tanjong in Penang.

    I am curious whether Pasir Mas MP/Perkasa boss Ibrahim Ali was in Parliament at that time. If he was, did he stand up for the one minute silence as a show of respect?

  10. Din

    I remember reading about the personalities you mentioned.
    You are very privileged to know them.
    They dont make politicians like Chong Eu anymore. RIP, good doc.
    We seem to be losing many leaders this past year who made Malaysia proud.
    Only Mahathir is left standing – the veteran who is still around.

  11. Deepest condolences to the family of the Grand Old Man of Penang, our dear Tun Dr Lim. Rest in peace.
    A true Son of Malaysia, as it should have been.
    A man of few words, but with lots of gumption.
    He came, he saw, he did and he retired, all in good grace.

    Postscript: Unfortunately, he was replaced by by a saliva spewer and even worse, his own acolyte who didn’t have a backbone of his own.

  12. “Pekong” is foul smell. A smelly fella like Koh should be shunt by all. We used this to tag the undesirables from among us.

    Hope that explains, Frank.

  13. Frank

    Its like membuka pekung di dada. That’s being done by some Keadilan members towards the party.
    If you noticed the UMNO leaders or the pro-UMNO bloggers hardly commented on the debacle in Keadilan.
    That’s good. Ignore it as insignificant.
    The most the ones who commented said was I told you so on Zaid’s abrupt departure from Keadilan.
    Its the Keadilan members who are destroying the party.

  14. Pak Abu

    Yes, I was quite surprised by the loud silence of the UMNO chaps on PKR’s troubles.

    UMNO read the situation quite well. If they come out to add fuel to the fire, the PKR supporters will come out and defend PKR, for obvious reasons.

    By keeping quiet, UMNO is basically allowing PKR to go and hang themselves and hoping there are enough ropes to to go round and that the noose is tight enough to hang all those silly bastards in PKR for making a fool of themselves in public.

    I think the UMNO chaps are following the advice of the Israeli outfit APCO advisers very well in this regard.

  15. DM, so are you going to Tun Lim Chong Eu’s funeral? I am going to Dewan Sri Pinang on Sat night 9pm.
    DrMelvinC, unfortunately, I won’t be there. You can represent Dr. Kamsiah and I on Saturday. Salute on our behalf as you pay your last respect to a great Penangite and Old Free.–Din Merican

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