THE late Tan Sri Mohamed Noah Omar may have had the distinction of being the only Malaysian man with two sons-inlaw and a grandson who went on to become prime ministers of Malaysia.
But to his closest friends, he was a simple man who loved life and valued ethics, integrity and professionalism.
Many remember himfor his sense of humour and strong personality.
Chairman and chief executive of Malayan United Industries Berhad Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng remembers Noah fondly, both as his father’s friend and his friend as well.
A large photograph of Noah, impeccably dressed in a blue buttoned-up striped suit, seated in a larger brown armchair in front of a tall grandfather’s clock in his home, adorns the wall of the MUI Group boardroom. It is a testimony of the close ties between the two men and the lasting impression he left.
“He was my father’s friend, and a few years senior to him. Both of them struck up a lifelong friendship when Noah was the district officer of Batu Pahat and later Segamat. My father was the manager of the OCBC bank in both towns around the same time,” Khoo says.
“The district officer was a very important and influential person in those days and in small towns like Batu Pahat and Segamat, the DO was highly regarded. For that matter, so was the bank manager. At that time, OCBC was the only bank in Batu Pahat and Segamat.”
Khoo’s first recollection of Noah was not so much of an important person in town but rather a good friend of his father, who would meet up regularly as friends would.
“Occasionally, after school and in the evenings, I was included in their social get-together and I became more acquainted with him.
Although I was only a teenager, he regarded me well, and it was easy for me to take a liking to him.”
Khoo remembers Noah as a kind, friendly, fatherly and unassuming gentleman.
“These qualities impressed me deeply because as a youth, I had always associated men of his stature as stern, pompous and stiff,” he says, adding that Noah’s qualities were different, being approachable and genuine.
The two men became better acquainted when their paths crossed again when both served on the board of the MUI Group.
“Our relationship continued on a different plane. He interacted with me on a professional level but continued to show me much personal warmth,” says Khoo.
Noah was appointed a director of MUI Group in 1970 and later chairman in 1980. When he retired in 1987, Khoo assumed the position of chairman and chief executive of the group.
“I would describe our relationship a little like that of a father and son. He was always caring, wise and ready to offer assistance.”
Khoo fondly remembers the time spent with Noah after the board meetings, where he could listen to him sharing his many experiences and stories.
“He had a rich, varied and interesting life and career to share. I miss him and fondly recall the numerous hours spent with him over many, many years,” recalls Khoo.
Prominent businessman and former Bank Negara director Tan Sri Kishu Tirathrai says Noah had an “awesome” personality.
“He was someone whose personality was so large and would hold you in awe when you meet him. He and my father were both such strong personalities and they were close friends right up to the death of my father.”
Even after that, Noah’s close friendship and ties with Kishu’s family remained.
Quite similar to Khoo’s, Kishu came to know of Noah as his father’s close friend, a friendship which began in Segamat, Johor, in the 1930s. Noah was the district officer while Tirathdas Jethanand was a businessman, who started the Globe Silk Store.
As in other small towns, everyone knew each other well and looked out for each other. Friendships forged were built on common values and lasted for many generations.
“My father and Noah met almost every weekend. Such was their friendship. They would meet at our house or at his. My father would bring me and my siblings over and he would do the same,” reminisces Kishu.
This friendship continued even when Jethanand moved to Kuala Lumpur to set up the iconic Globe Silk Store. Noah also moved to Kuala Lumpur and they resumed their friendship there.
They were so close that Noah managed to convince Jethanand that Kishu should take up law upon completing his Form Five.
“Noah had a keen interest in education and wanted me to study law.
However, my father had other ideas and wanted me to take care of the family business,” says Kishu.
“Although we are one generation apart, we came to know each other well. After his retirement, he would regularly visit me at my office in the Globe Silk Store.”
Noah had simple tastes, thus it came as was no surprise that he was a long-time customer of the Globe Silk Store, preferring the shirts and shoes at the store to other highstreet brands.
Kishu says Noah had strong views and valued ethics and integrity and the family institution, thus he looks upon the man as a father figure and mentor, and values his counsel.
Former Esso Malaysia director Datuk Murad Hashim fondly recalls his association with Noah, his fellow director with the oil company.
“He was a fun, sociable and hospitable person who made me feel welcome. It was interesting to have him around.”
Noah’s sense of humour also made him a likeable person, he adds.
Noah’s personal physician in the 1980s, Professor Datuk Dr Kew Siang Tong also remembers him well.
“He was a remarkable man; humble, unassuming and never pushed his weight around. He was friendly, easy to talk to and good humoured, and a wonderful patient at all times,” she says.
Dr Kew cared for Noah for more than 10 years during her tenure at Kuala Lumpur Hospital.
“He was never a problem to us and never exerted his standing, despite him being the father-in-law of two prime ministers.”
A dinner to honour the contributions of Tan Sri Mohamed Noah Omar will be held at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur tonight. Themed “Malam Jasa Mu Dikenang”, it will be attended by his grandson and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, leaders, captains of industry and friends of the former speaker of Dewan RakyatandpresidentofDewan Negara. A coffee table book on Noah will also be launched by Najib.