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ACCOMPLISHED: His book on the Constitution became a classic and a source of reference for universities and law students
LAST week brought one of the most inspiring events in my life to date. It had its own unique brand of dignity.
The occasion was organised by Loong Caesar to commemorate Tun Mohd Suffian Hashim, a most striking example of what a Malay boy from a humble background could accomplish without money and without influence.
Starting with his meteoric rise in the legal service where after a delayed start we find him in record time the youngest yet the most senior officer.
By 1975, he had become internationally renowned. In which context his career peaked with the Magsaysay Award for outstanding public service, the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. And back home in the very same year, he was elevated to Lord President which earned him his Tunship, Malaysia's highest title conferred by the King.
All this against a backdrop of one of the most crucial periods of our history and having to endure two World Wars, the Emergency and the Japanese Occupation. All of which had an impact on Suffian.
He also lived through exciting times -- like the advent of Independence -- in which he played a special role in drafting the Constitution of the new Malaya. His book on the Constitution became a classic and, most pertinently, a source of reference for universities and law students up to today. This is probably his greatest legacy.
Suffian was born 1917 in a small village (Kota Lama Kiri) on the banks of the Sungai Perak. He was raised by very religious parents. (His father was a kadi). They were also strict disciplinarians. Their son's genius took no time to emerge. He was always without fail head of his class gaining no less than three double promotions. At the age of 11 he won a scholarship to the Clifford English School, Kuala Kangsar, giving him his first glimpse of the wider world beyond.
In 1936, he won a Queen's Scholarship to the United Kingdom, the first Malay to do so. Little was he to know this would take him to the love of his life -- or rather two loves -- his lifelong devotion to Cambridge and UK, and his lifelong devotion to his wife Bunny. She was his landlady's daughter at Cambridge.
He met, possibly consorted with Stephen Hawking -- one of his College's most legendary alumni. Loong Caesar can tell you more.
Suffian read Law, and then went on to the Middle Temple in London becoming a barrister. Aged 24, he was ready to return. But it was not to be. Suffian set sail for home with the highest expectations, eager to practice. The first mishap occurred when he was stranded in Colombo. Malaya by then was in the hands of the Japanese and too dangerous a place to be.
Hence the first diversion! For three years he became a newscaster and commentator in Malay for the All India radio then the British Broadcasting Corporation. All of which fortuitously served to refine his writing and speaking skills.
People tended to underestimate Suffian. They thought him unassuming. Not so. He was modest but not afraid to speak out.
Then just when he contemplated returning to his home base, he was offered further opportunities in UK which took him back to Cambridge, London School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies. This time he was studying Public Administration in preparation for becoming a district officer.
Two years later the prodigal son did return where, waiting for him, was not the aforesaid D.O. post but that of a district magistrate in Malacca -- again the first Malay to hold such a position. He hadn't touched Law in seven years.
Then that jinx, that seemed always to follow Suffian, now surfaced again. They had forgotten to arrange for the salary of the newly appointed magistrate, an oversight hastily solved by appointing him concurrently harbour master. Later in life probably with some chagrin, he headed a special Commission on Salaries.
And so ends his incubation period. His real career was about to take off. It would prove so inundated with accolades, honours, promotions and multifarious achievements we will be devoting Part II of this article as a sequel.
But before I get there, I must pay tribute to Sir Christopher Hum, Master of Caius College and Loong Caesar for organising the recent Suffian Commemoration.