Sunday, 25 March 2018

Eusoffe Abdoolcader - a giant among equals

It is not often that I would reproduce in full the content of a news item but in my opinion, this story is so significant as it is all about a unique man who was a giant among equals. Eusoffe Abdoolcader emerged from the shadows of his father, Sir Hussein Hasanally Abdoolcader, to be well-respected internationally in his own right. We won't find such a Malaysian again. Not during my lifetime, anyway.

Of course, we Old Frees, will know Eusoffe Abdoolcader to be an Old Free as well. In his later years after his brush with the constitutional crisis in Malaysia, he would occasionally turn up at the annual dinner of The Old Frees' Association. It was at moments like the annual dinner that he could visibly relax among his Old Frees peers.

In 2011 during the course of preparing Fidelis, the commemorative coffee-table book of The Old Frees' Association, I managed to dig up some nice candid pictures of Abdoolcader during his youth. It really showed him in a different perspective but such pictures, I would stop short of reproducing them here. Not at this time, anyway, but people curious enough should try and hunt down a copy of that coffee-table book.
In the meantime, this online story was written by Looi Sue-Chern and appeared in The Malaysian Insight which will be taken offline from 31 Mar 2018, which makes it doubly important that the report be reproduced here lest it disappear forever.

An undated photograph of Dr Eusoffe Abdoolcader from a now-defunct magazine. Eusoffe is remembered as one of the greatest judges Malaysia has ever seen. – The Malaysian Insight pic, March 25, 2018

THE late Dr Eusoffe Abdoolcader, one of five senior judges suspended during the 1988 judicial crisis, was a respected lawyer and Supreme Court judge, remembered by his peers and juniors as perhaps the greatest judge Malaysia had seen. 
Penang Bar Committee chairman T. Tharumarajah described him as an encyclopaedia, a man with the law at his fingertips and a daunting judge to appear before, sharp and strict.
But family friend T.D. Ampikaipakan remembers him as a man with a softer side – a loving husband and a generous friend.
“He was a tough and arrogant man, but on the other hand, he was also a person who would apologise immediately (when wrong),” she said.
The consultant and trainer spoke of how she and her husband became great friends of the judge at a tribute for Eusoffe in George Town organised by the Penang Bar Committee and publishers Akasaa and Avec on Friday.
Akasaa and Avec recently published the book The Legal Lion of the Commonwealth: Judgments. The two-volume work edited by Angela Yap and Ritchie Ramesh contains Eusoffe’s history and his landmark judgments in constitutional cases in Malaysia.
Ampikaipakan met him in 1985 when her lung physician husband, then only 35, attended to Eusoffe’s wife, Haseenah. Her husband made regular house calls to see Haseenah, who had throat cancer and then pneumonia that caused her to need constant supervision and regular medical checks. 
Ampikaipakan, who used to drive her husband to the judge’s house after he finished at his clinic, said they were expected at 5.30pm, and without fail, Eusoffe would be waiting for them, with the gates opened and dogs tied.
The judge, she said, was visibly upset whenever the doctor was late, but did not say anything until the third time it happened.
But after hearing her husband explain that he was held up at the hospital by patients and could help make arrangements for a different doctor to make the house visits, Eusoffe understood and quickly apologised for being angry.
“Slowly from there, the relationship between the two grew. He became very fond of my husband. They used to speak three times a day,” Ampikaipakan said.
She said they saw how lonely the judge was as he faced the challenges of his profession and struggled to care for his wife, who was ill and later became bedridden. 
She said after he was suspended in the 1988 constitutional crisis, strangers would go up to Eusoffe to shake his hand when he went out to dinner with them. 
“He would look at us and said he didn’t know those people. We said it was because they respected him for standing up for what he thought was right. 
“How lonely was the life of a Supreme Court judge because he had no friends. But my husband was a doctor, so they became good friends,” she said, adding that until today her husband still found it too hard to talk about Eusoffe, who died at 71 in January 1996. 
T.D. Ampikaipakan says doctors were afraid to tell Dr Eusoffe Abdoolcader that his wife was dying. – The Malaysian Insight pic, March 25, 2018.
Ampikaipakan related how Eusoffe loved his wife, who was about 10 years older than him. 
After Eusoffe was reinstated, she said, the stress from work started to give him chest pains, and tests revealed that he needed a heart bypass.
Initially, he declined as he wanted to die before his wife. 
“Then he changed his mind, went for surgery and recovered quickly after we asked who would take care of her if he died first. 
“I don’t understand their love. He spoke English and no Chinese. She spoke Chinese and no English. They communicated in broken Malay. I think they had some mental telepathy between them.”
Ampikaipakan said Eusoff, who was almost 70, was even willing to give his kidney to Haseenah when her kidneys started to fail before she died in 1993 in Penang.
“Haseenah was dying and doctors were all terrified of having to tell Eusoffe. I came to Penang and told him to let her go if he loved her. 
“The man cried so loudly. He was losing his soul. It was so sad watching him. She died two days later,” she said.
Each year on her death anniversary, Eusoff took out advertisements in newspapers to print poems he wrote  to her. Ampikaipakan saw the last poem he wrote for Haseenah in Latin without knowing it was going to be the final one. 
“My husband was leaving on a trip to London and Eusoffe had told him to remember to buy him medicated toothpicks and sugared almonds. That was a day before Eusoffe killed himself,” she said. 
Ampikaipakan also described Eusoffe as generous to a fault, frequently donating money to charities her husband was involved in. 
She said before Eusoffe died, he told her husband that should he ever need a lawyer, he would take off his robes to defend him. 
Eusoffe’s rulings set precedents in landmark cases in the Commonwealth, with the British press lauding him as the "Legal Lion of the Commonwealth". His judgments are still frequently quoted in international law journals.
"Work on the book started in 2005. We wanted to provide an accurate portrayal of Eusoffe. He was also one of four Malayans chosen by the Japanese to be an administrator in the country during the occupation.
"Research took us to countries like Japan, the UK and Singapore. That is why it has taken us so long," Yap said.
Eusoffe died long before the government, under prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in 2008 moved to make amends over the 1988 crisis, which destroyed the judiciary’s independence.
Abdullah gave ex-gratia payments to the judges who were sacked and suspended following legal hearings involving Umno, which displeased then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. – March 25, 2018.

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