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–firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.