A great loss to education

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. 

– Nelson Mandela, South African president

There are only two educationists that I hold in high esteem. One is Brother Albinus Michael O’Flaherty and the other, Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing.

Both are no longer with us. Albinus passed on eight years ago in 2013 at the age of 83, and Lim died last week. He was 75.

I will never forget Albinus, my principal at Sacred Heart Secondary School, Sibu, in the seventies. I owe him a lot; I am what I am now because of the man. He frequently reminded my classmates and I never to give up and always look forward to better things.

His favourite advice was, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” Some of the naughty students would turn it into a joke, “Where there’s a wheel one can reach one’s destination.”

On June 1, one of Malaysia’s best-known educators passed away after being reportedly hospitalised a week earlier following a fall. I thought he would soon be back on his feet but was shocked to hear from his aide that he succumbed to his injuries.   

The last time I met Lim was on Dec 1 last year when he invited me to his Limkokwing University campus in Cyberjaya. I spent nearly three hours with him.

The man was a walking encyclopaedia. He was very knowledgeable and well informed about current affairs and what’s going on within and outside the country. At times I wondered how he managed to find time in between his punishing schedules to keep abreast of national and world events.

I first got to know about him when his aide called me to say that his boss wanted to see me. That was in 2010 or 2011, can’t really remember.

“He’s offering you a job,” said the aide.

“I didn’t apply for any job,” I shot back.

“It’s okay, he knows who is good and who isn’t,” he said. “Just call him and say a few words.”

Out of politeness, I called Lim and declined his offer.

Since then, he would occasionally buzz me. I remember one day, several years ago, when he was in the state for an event and he invited me to meet him at Hilton Kuching.

We met for 20 minutes and he broached the topic about me working for him. Once again, I declined his offer. I remember him telling me that I wasn’t adventurous. I just laughed it off.

Last year he tried again. But I turned his offer down politely, saying I was very happy where I was and that my current employers were the best bosses that I have ever known.

But this time Lim smiled and said, “I respect your decision and I am amazed by your loyalty.”

Thanks, Tan Sri.

Let me write a bit about the man. Lim started his career as an illustrator and moved to advertising before turning his attention to education in 1991.

An educationist, Lim is best known for the university that bears his name.

He founded the Limkokwing Institute of Creative Technology and in 2002 it became the first private college to be recognised as a university college. Lim renamed it Limkokwing University of Creative Technology.

Later, he opened university campuses in several countries and provided education — when this was not available otherwise — to thousands of students from 165 countries, including Cambodia, the United Kingdom, and countries in the African continent.

He brought education to Africa — often providing scholarships to poor African students.

To cut a long story short, Lim put Malaysia on the world education map. No other private educationist or entrepreneur in the education field has achieved what he had done for foreign students.

Limkokwing University attained global recognition. Tens of thousands of students worldwide have passed through the doors of its various campuses.

As a former sports editor with the New Straits Times aptly put it: “He built an education empire like no other, giving hope and future to those who otherwise lacked the means and the opportunity.”

Lim has also been a communication strategist for the Malaysian government for all major national campaigns.

At one time, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad recommended Lim to the late Nelson Mandela, to develop iconic images and a tagline for the African National Congress (ANC), ‘A Better Life for All’.

The ANC went on to win the election with Mandela becoming South Africa’s first black president which cemented Lim’s role as a global communication strategist, making him a highly demanded advisor to governments in Africa.

Lim held numerous positions and posts numbering more than 100 in various organisations and received some 280 national and international awards from 1987 to 2020.

His death is a great loss to the people, especially the students he had cared for and helped, and to the nation.

Farewell Sir.