One of the best known figures in Penang has passed away. Dr Lim Chong Eu, second Chief Minister of Penang from 1969 to 1990, died at his house in Tanjung Bungah on Wednesday night without recovering from a stroke. He was 91.
Every true blue Penangite should appreciate that Chong Eu was not only a giant in Malaysian politics, he was above all the architect of Penang's recovery from the doldrums of economic stagnation in the 1960s. After his Gerakan political party wrested the state from the Alliance in the 1969 elections, he turned Penang from a largely agricultural, tourist and trading outpost into the engine of technological growth for the whole country.
I deeply respected him. In the late 1970s, I understood what he was doing for Penang. He might not have done everything right but he did everything necessary. But for him, Penang would never have recovered economically in the 1970s. He brought jobs to a state that was dying and stagnating after it had its free port status stolen away from it.
The lasting legacies he left Penang were the free industrial zones, the Komtar tower and the Penang Bridge. I would have loved it if the Penang Bridge could be renamed as the Dr Lim Chong Eu Bridge in his memory but I hear that the prerogative to do this lies solely with the Federal Government in Kuala Lumpur. Instead, I am happy to learn today that at least, within the Penang Government's powers, both the Jelutong Expressway and the Bayan Lepas Expressway have been renamed as the Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway. Still a very nice way of showing appreciation of him.
Tributes to Dr Lim are everywhere on the Internet and I wouldn't want to add second-hand news to everything that have already been said. So let me try to add something different. It was related to me not so long ago that Dr Lim had once mentioned dryly that "every Old Free thinks that he is Somebody." Actually, I find this a very amusing (but perhaps outdated) observation. It says a lot about his understanding of the Penang Free School character. After all, he was himself a product of the old school. He understood what would make an Old Free tick. He understood how - and why - Old Frees think they are the centre of the Universe. But of course, he understood the part an Old Free still plays in today's society.
(Note: According to one of my old school mates, Abu Huraira, during the investiture of Dr Lim's Chief Ministership in 1969, he wore the School tie and this was captured on the front page of the then Straits Times Press.)