Fan Yew Teng: Recalling a towering Malaysian

By Joseph Sipalan
Jan 6, 11

Freedom fighter, husband, father, friend, teacher, true Malaysian.

These were among the many fond descriptions given to veteran activist and DAP strongman Fan Yew Teng, as family, friends and comrades came together to honour his legacy during a memorial last night in Kuala Lumpur.

About 250 people packed into the YMCA hall in Brickfields, staying three hours to share their cherished memories of their time spent with the charismatic Fan, who died last Dec 7 after a year battling with prostate cancer.

More than 20 people took to the rostrum to speak of Fan and how much he had influenced their lives, with his unyielding zest for life and indomitable spirit in the pursuit of justice.

Among those who spoke at the memorial were DAP national chairman Karpal Singh, party life advisor Dr Chen Man Hin, DAP advisor Lim Kit Siang, Penang Chief Minister and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, former Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (Abim) secretary-general Mohd Anuar Tahir, Fan’s wife Dr Noeleen Heyzer and his twin daughters Lilianne and Pauline.

They spoke of vastly different experiences with Fan, who convinced Karpal to contest his first ever election in Alor Star, Kedah in August 1974 despite the latter just losing his father to a road accident three months earlier.

Anuar also recounted how Fan endeared himself to everyone in Abim as a staff member of the Islamic organisation, saying how Fan’s openness in studying the Quran impressed everyone to the point that he was light-heartedly called ustaz Fan by Abim staff.

Far from being one-dimensional, Noeleen shared how her late husband – who did not like flying – was a man willing to take risks and sacrifices for love, literally travelling thousands of miles over sea and land, going through India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and Europe to join her in England where she was studying in the 1970s.

“And just as he took risks and sacrifices for our love, he did the same for his principles,” she said.

Alternative Asean Network (Altsean) coordinator Debbie Stothard, who had worked closely with Fan in the 1990s when protesting on Burma issues, said Fan’s sense of humour was also an integral part of what made him such a charismatic leader.

She said anyone around him could not help but be won over by his boundless energy and strength of character, adding jokingly that they would feel safe with Fan around during protests because he would be the first one the police would go after.

But even with the many different experiences Fan had imparted to those around him, they all saw the same fire and passion that drove the man in his pursuit of freedom, equality, democracy and peace.

As Lim Guan Eng said when eulogising the multi-talented leader, Fan was a “true patriot” whose only wish was to have a truly equal, democratic and peaceful Malaysia.

“In that sense, Fan was a towering Malaysian. Not towering in the sense of building 100-storey buildings or accumulating ill-gotten gains or abusing power and exploiting fellow Malaysians, but a towering Malaysian in ideas, ideals, faith, hope and love.”

A second memorial will be held at the 14th floor of the Excelsior Hotel in Ipoh later this evening.

  1. #1 by limkamput on Thursday, 6 January 2011 - 4:51 pm

    Now it is towering this and towering that. Before his death, why didn’t I see or hear he was given more prominent role in DAP. There are still so many former DAP leaders in the wilderness, what steps have the present leadership taken to bring them back the party?

  2. #2 by Dipoh Bous on Thursday, 6 January 2011 - 5:34 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with #1 above.

    I have been following this blog for quite sometime and I must admit that I only came to know this ‘towering malaysian’ after his death.

    Perhaps it’s human nature to finally realize the ‘greatness’ of so and so on the event of his/her death. Thus ‘it’s a great loss to our country’ phrase is more like a rhetoric : a copy and paste phrase without the real meaning behind it.

  3. #3 by tanjong8 on Thursday, 6 January 2011 - 9:40 pm

    Hello, have you heard of the saying : one can be judged conclusively when the coffin is finally nailed.

  4. #4 by Zonefinder on Friday, 7 January 2011 - 8:41 am

    Easy for us to criticize when most of us don’t even bother to join rallies or demo against corruption. Before 2008, even the most optimistic amongst the opposition politicians dare not even dream of gaining power let alone becoming chief minister or mb. Not having heard of him is more because of current regime’s skill in “changing” history like what they are now trying to do in our history books. Also blame your own ignorance! Fan was a giant in the 70’s and 80’s.

    All the more reason to appreciate guys like karpal, kit Xiang, p patto and v David who fight to the very end for their beliefs and ideology for a better Malaysia

  5. #5 by Zonefinder on Friday, 7 January 2011 - 1:15 pm

    Those who were adults during the 70’s knew Fan very well. He was a Giant in the opposition. Fact that many remain ignorant were the work of the current regime in suppressing and changing history towards that which promote Ketuanan Melayu.
    Prior to 2008, nobody in their right mind would have thought that the Opposition can win significant power let alone govern 4 States (was 5) or even have a DAP CM in a State. Takes a special breed to fight purely for their principles without any hope for political power. Kit Siang, Karpal, V David, P Patto belong to this special breed.

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