Makers of men, creators of leaders

Kalimullah Hassan
The Malaysian Insider
May 29, 2011

MAY 29 — In the movie “Scent of a Woman”, actor Al Pacino plays the character of the blind retired US Army Lt Col Frank Slade who befriends young Charlie Simms. Charlie, despite his disadvantaged background, is a student at an elite school — Baird — which has produced some of America’s great business and political leaders, thinkers and scholars.

Charlie witnesses an act of vandalism, a schoolboy prank, by three of his schoolmates, all of whom are from old money and privileged backgrounds. The school, supposedly standing by its tradition of integrity and propriety, demands that Charlie Simms tells on his friends and even entices him with a scholarship to Harvard if he does. This was the moral dilemma he faced — sell his soul and be rewarded, or, keep his integrity and be punished.

Charlie kept his silence and refused to blow the whistle on his friends. His friends, on the other hand, kept their silence to save their skins even though it meant that Charlie would be punished.

At the disciplinary hearing, before the whole school, the three pranksters had their well-known fathers and family present to support them but Charlie was alone as his parents could not afford the trip to Baird from Oregon.

I have always cherished the scene in the movie when the blind Lt Col Slade turns up at the hearing just as the disciplinary board was about to pass judgment on Charlie. The headmaster had just finished chastising Charlie, saying he had no choice but to expel him because Charlie was “not worthy of being a Baird man.”

That’s when Frank Slade stands up and says, “Mr. Simms doesn’t want it. He doesn’t need to be labelled…” still worthy of being a Baird man.” What the hell is that? What is your motto here? Boys, inform on your classmates, save your hide; anything short of that, we’re gonna burn you at the stake?

“Well, gentlemen, when the s*** hits the fan, some guys run and some guys stay. Here’s Charlie facing the fire, and there’s George (one of the perpetrators) hiding in big daddy’s pocket. And what are you (the school) doing? You’re going to reward George … and destroy Charlie?

“I don’t know who went to this place. William Howard Taft (the 27th President of the United States), William Jennings Bryan (a prominent US politician in the 19th century), William Tell (the legendary Swiss folk hero), whoever …

“(But) their spirit is dead, if they ever had one. It’s gone. You’re building a rat ship here, a vessel for seagoing snitches. And if you think you are preparing these minnows for manhood, you better think again, because I say you are killing the very spirit this institution proclaims it instils.”

In a powerful performance that perhaps only few like Al Pacino could deliver, Frank Slade rounds up his argument by saying these telling words: “As I came in here, I heard those words: (that Baird is) ‘the cradle of leadership; makers of men, creators of leaders.’

“Well … be careful what kind of leaders you are producing here. I don’t know if Charlie’s silence here today is right or wrong; I’m not a judge or jury. But I can tell you this — he won’t sell anybody out to buy his future! And that, my friends, is called integrity. That’s called courage. Now that’s the stuff leaders should be made of.

“I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew, but I never took it. You know why? It was too damned hard. Now here’s Charlie. He’s come to the crossroads. He has chosen a path. It’s the right path. It’s a path made of principle … that leads to character.

“Let him continue on his journey. You hold this boy’s future in your hands. It’s a valuable future, believe me. Don’t destroy it. Protect it. Embrace it. It is going to make you proud one day, I promise you.”

Why do I love this story? Because, like Lt Col Frank Slade, I believe most, if not all, of us know what the right path is. But there are very few amongst us who are steadfast in always doing the right thing — because we are human; because compromise is easier; because, like Slade said, following the right path is “too damned hard.”

For the rare few who stand tall amongst us — like Rev B H Balderstone and Rev D D Moore who stood in front of our own Methodist Boys School in Penang when it was first started in 1891 persuading children to come and study there — perhaps doing the right thing came easy. But for the vast majority of us, character came from those who made an effort to mould it — our parents, perhaps, but most of all the teachers, the educators, who guided us from the early years of our life.

As an alumnus of Pykett Methodist School in the 1960s and Methodist Boys School until 1974, I vividly remember and can still see the faces of my teachers in primary school like Ho Thow Kim, Chuah Thean Choon, Khor Kim Leng, Miss Khoo Chiew Geok, Mrs Kanagaratnam and our principal Mr D S Ramanathan. In MBS, who among my generation can forget Mr Stanley David, who taught us Japanese songs he learned during the Second World War, or our sports teachers like the indefatigable Mr R D Sharma and the disciplinarian Tan Poh Seng; or the kindly Mr Yeoh Seng Hong and the eccentric Mr Khoo Teng Joo; or the humorous Pastor Hwa Jen and the sometimes caustic Teh Kee Lin; or the Jawi-writing Paul Chong and the tall, sturdy Yew Chin Wah who later became a pilot, and by that strange stroke of fate that we sometimes see, is now a senior pilot in Air Asia X, in which I am a founding member of the board of directors?

It was they and the long line of illustrious teachers before and after them, who kept to the traditions and spirit on which MBS was founded and built, and who taught us how to laugh at ourselves, how to be disciplined, how to persevere in doing the right thing and how to blend with and support each other and become the kind of society and community we wished for.

Yes, we were caned; and yes, we were made to stand on chairs or outside the classroom for schoolboy pranks or for not doing our homework. Mr Chuah Thean Choon did not believe in sparing the rod. I was caned 10 times by him — and I remember many of those canings vividly — when I was in his class in Standard Four. I was one of the lucky ones because most of my other classmates were caned more times than that. That would not be possible today, would it?

If there were still Chuah Thean Choons around, they would have been hounded out by indulging parents and Parent Teacher Associations; but perhaps, I am too nostalgic of an era when there were different values and different norms.

Nevertheless, it was these teachers and it is the tradition on which MBS was founded that has seen this school produce no less than a prime minister of Malaysia, top scientists, academics, soldiers, businessmen, sportsmen, civil servants, judges and doctors.

I have walked down the heritage hall here many times and each time, as I look at the pictures on the walls of the luminaries who passed this way, I burst with pride that I am from this school. Even from my year of 1974, I see how many of my classmates and friends are today driving forces not only in our country but in the region — as CEOs, senior civil servants, entrepreneurs, doctors and academics. But most of all, there are many of them who are just ordinary good people of good character. I, perhaps, was one of the few playful and not-so-clever enough to get into university then. But MBS, I would like to believe, made me a better man. While there is wistful regret that my four children did not go to my alma mater, I believe that I have imparted the values that I acquired in this school to them. For that, they are better people than me and, I hope and pray, that they will continue to be good Malaysians who will contribute to their society and their country.

Bishop Dr Hwa Yung says in his opening message on our school’s 120th anniversary that things seem to have changed for the worse. I could not agree any less with him. These are challenging years for our country and our countrymen. But then again, looking at our own history at MBS, I ask myself what could have been more challenging than the times of Rev Balderstone, Moore and Pykett who had to start up this institution that we are so proud of today, standing on street corners to persuade people to get an education? What could have been more challenging than to get dedicated educators to build a tradition and a heritage that allows us to walk with our heads high and say proudly: “I am from MBS.”

Like Bishop Hwa Yung, I believe that in recent years, we have been sliding — not only in education, but also as a society and as a country. The famous poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias is a sound reminder to us all.


I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

Whenever I read this poem these days, I think of the challenges our society and country today face. Sometimes, it appears as if the dreams, the ideals, the spirit we had as a young nation are precariously clutching on to a fragile foundation, fearful of a strong gust of wind that will blow these dreams and ideals away. Will the challenges we face today result in a future where, like Ozymandia’s great empire, all that remain are a “colossal wreck, boundless and bare,” and where “the lone and level sands stretch far away”.

For 120 years, Methodist Boys School, like many premier institutions throughout the country, was the “cradle of leadership; the maker of men, the creators of leaders.”

Lt Col Frank Slade asked the administrators of Baird: “What is your motto here?”

The MBS motto is: “Whatsoever things are true; whatsoever things [are] honest, whatsoever things [are] just, whatsoever things [are] pure, whatsoever things [are] lovely, whatsoever things [are] of good report; if [there be] any virtue, and if [there be] any praise, think on these things.”

And in our school song, which most of us have not forgotten for the sheer reason that it inspired us, we used to sing:

Pykett came to blaze the trail

There’s no room for hearts that quail

Learn that there can be no rest

Till you have given off your best

If the students of MBS today and in the future continue to hold on to our motto of whatsoever things are true, if the many dedicated old boys and teachers like Dato Lim Cheng Chuan (Chairman of the Board of Governors) continue to contribute with selfless dedication, if our society and countrymen emulate that spirit of giving our best, then, perhaps, we will continue to overcome the challenges and decades from now, long after we are gone, our Heritage Hall may have to find a new home to accommodate the continuing list of illustrious Malaysians from MBS.

As for me, I will always be proud to be an MBS boy. Because it taught me, like the fictional Charlie Simms in “Scent of a Woman”, that when the s*** hits the fan, we don’t run; we stay. That if we maintain our integrity and courage, if we follow the right path and stick to our principles, if we don’t sell our soul for our future, our spirit will remain intact. And we shall overcome.

* Kalimullah Hassan, a former journalist and a businessman, is a member of the Board of Governors of Methodist Boys School Penang. This article was published in the souvenir programme of the school’s 120th anniversary on May 28, 2011.

  1. #1 by k1980 on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 9:16 am

    Was Kalimullah one of the infamous 4th floor boys led by KJ when Bad Ah Wee was ‘king of the hill’ a few years ago?

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 9:29 am

    Schools (like MBS) teach young minds integrity but the world and life’s experience after school teaches them to bend principles for expedience. So what’s good of the first except to make young men imbued with idealism, only to be in maturity disillusioned and unprincipled for expedience, and then in old age, when game is over, to preach again to the next batch of young and repeat this ridiculous cycle??? Schools impart values –true- but whether we internalise them and act them out, prepared to bear the cost & price or abandon them for personal gain, that’s perhaps much more a function of individual character based on congenital intellect or DNA, I think.

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 9:44 am

    Scent of Women’s Frank Slade is principled (if we take his words for it) but what price he paid? Slade was passed over for promotion to the rank of General (because he didn’t carry b*lls, got depressed, took to the bottle and lost his sight by juggling hand grenades while intoxicated, causing Slade to put his nephew in a brief choke-hold. He is lonely, couldn’t even get a woman or right woman to love him. When Slade asks Charlie to run an errand, it was for him to be alone to commit suicide. The suspicious Charlie quickly returns to grab Slade’s gun and later persuades him not to end his life. He confides in Charlie, particularly about his dream of finding a woman who would love him. He is Charlie who saves Slade may be more than the other way around. Imagine the irony of Slade preaching to young Charlie – and school board- about principles who want to end his miserable life perhaps due to rigid following of principles that mess his life imposing a price that he could not bear. What lesson is that?

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 9:57 am

    Now Kalimullah teaches the right principled path but earlier he was serving UMNO NST as group editor. Of course he had to say a few bad things against Anwar & the Opposition. Or defend Khairy (ECM Libra). He too had to mke compromises. I’d give him a little benefit of doubt, his editorial policies & pieces were notch more open (in line with Pak Lah’s more open politics) and with protection from top, dared published & republished the Non Sequiter cartoon with the original Danish caricatures to the chagrin of conservatives and those who leveraged on religious card (when the Ministry of Internal Security just banned other papers (unprotected) by reasons of these cartoons. .

    Kalimullah knows that life requires a management of balance between principles one embrace and compromise and expedience to get the good things and the positions. So principles when young (learning them) and old (teaching them) and in-between getting the good things compromising them – in that sequence…

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 10:16 am

    He knows we live in snitching milieu – specially snitching on who has sex with who to bring his downfall…Depends on how and what one’s snitch. In film Casualties of War an american soldier (played by Michael J Fox) snitches on his comrades, got them court marshalled for raping and killing a vietnamese woman – that good snitch. In “Scent of Woman” Charlie who bears witness to several students setting up a prank for the school’s headmaster Trask refuses to snitch – and that retired Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade (played by Al Pacino) is bad snitch.

    Is snitching on people’s extra marital affairs or consorting with prostitute (by hidden video) good or bad? Its calculated to bring the actors down politically. If snitching in this sense bad, is it good to reward the ‘bad’ snitchers by helping them achieve their nefarious objective to demand the one caught with pants down by their snitching should be disqualified from public office??? Or is the snitcher doing a public good for snitching and exposing here?

  6. #6 by Godfather on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 10:25 am

    Kalimullah is having selective memory, like all those who partaked in the looting of the national treasury. Did he scream and shout when his best buddies tried to control everything from the 4th floor ? Did he give the sermon to KJ, Reezal Merican and others that they should stick to their principles of fairness and legality ?

    Please lah, we can see a hypocrite who writes like this only when his time at the controls is over.

  7. #7 by dtan_19 on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 11:19 am

    Such inspiring thoughts of what an educational institution should be…[but only] such fond memories. Between. Everyone should watch “Scent of a Woman” twice at least. Lt. Col. Frank Slade, Huh aah!

  8. #8 by chinkimwah on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 1:05 pm

    Come GE 13, let us vote for principled leaders who will stand principals and integrity and not to amass personal wealth at the expense of the rakyat. We know who we can count on!

  9. #9 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 2:06 pm

    ///Did he scream and shout when his best buddies tried to control everything from the 4th floor ?/// – Godfather.

    Give him a break. How many persons, who out of hand of fate, suddenly find themselves in a certain situation (many wouy;d regard fortuituous) to be helped by friends on the 4th floor to do well for himself, would give the opportunity a miss (on principle) just because those friends are looting the national treasury so to speak? After all he himself is not holding public office and looting national treasury. Also there is also a competing duty to do well for oneself and family, isn’t there? There’s also a saying, “make hay while sun shines” and opportunity does not strike twice. The man making hay while sun shines using his wits and not harming any person in particular is not exactly in para position with another man using the moonlight to burglarize another’s house for his own good to detriment of others. Are we saints? Maybe we should revise expectations a notch downwards. Talking about “selective memory” and hypocrisy surely we cannot compare Kalimullah’s with that of Mamakthir’s! Many a man (maybe like Kallimulah) do appreciate certain ideals (at least they appreciate) even though what they did (to better themselves) requires compromise and a management between scales of ideals and realities. It is not easy to practise integrity and survive when most around you with whom you have to interface are of zero integrity and principles.

  10. #10 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 5:47 pm

    Jeffrey: “Give him a break.”

    If you or I were similarly called upon to write an article reminiscent of our alma mater, we would similarly look for ideals that inspire and tales worth telling.

    Just an article is not sufficient cause to laud or lacerate Kalimullah. I agree with Jeffrey’s tone. Suffice for the moment that Kalimullah still has nerves in his conscience and virtues in his bones. His journey is not over yet; he can yet be instrumental in the making of men and creating leaders.

    Give him a break. You would appreciate him more if he is juxtaposed against that mamakthir who is still breathing venom thru Perkasa-lah. What would u call the latter: makers of madness, craetors of evil?

  11. #11 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 6:55 pm

    Mayb it’s almost time 2 face his Maker lah, rediscovered conscience bugging him, n repent b4 it’s too late mah
    Ppl must walk d talk n not just pretend 2 stand on a high moral pedestal

  12. #12 by raven77 on Wednesday, 1 June 2011 - 3:10 am

    Ex 4th floor boy Kalimullah from a school like MBS…..parents should really be careful where they send their kids to school…..

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