A king with people’s interests at heart

On May 22, Malaysia lost one of its most beloved kings, Sultan Ahmad Shah of Pahang, who passed away at the age of 88.

It was a sad moment because he was one of the few leaders who truly had the people’s interests at heart.

In fact, the Pahang royal family has served not only citizens of their own state but also the whole country since the reign of Sultan Abu Bakar in 1932.

Sultan Abu Bakar was a patriot — during the Japanese occupation, he discreetly encouraged resistance movements such as the Askar Wataniah, Force 136 and the Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA).

A disciplinarian, he sent his son Ahmad Shah to the Malay College Kuala Kangsar followed by Worcester College, Oxford and the University of Exeter where he received diplomas in public administration.

Sultan Ahmad Shah, who was appointed Pahang’s Crown Prince as a teenager, was a keen sportsman and excelled in football, polo and equestrian.

Sultan Ahmad Shah, who succeeded his father in 1974, was the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president from 1984 until 2014, as well as the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president until 2002 and Asian Football Federation (AFF) until 2011.

His oldest son Tengku Abdullah followed in his father’s footsteps, also studying at Worcester College and Queen Elizabeth College as well as the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

My family’s association with Pahang goes way back because my mother was born in Kuantan to a Welsh engineer and Malay mother from Jerantut.

She was given way to an English officer Major Leopold James Pierson, who was one of the first colonial officers responsible for building the Bentong-Kuantan road sometime in the early 1930s.

Those were the days when tigers roamed the Pahang jungle. My grandfather, then a surveyor, oversaw the construction connecting the west coast to the east.

One day he was confronted by a tiger but was spared. According to the story, the tiger popped out of the jungle confronting grandpa — a six-footer who was only armed with a walking stick.

As the tiger eyed the WWI veteran who was twice injured at Gallipoli, it encircled its prey, then changed its mind and leapt into the thick forest.

Later at the Kuala Lipis bungalow where my grandfather was staying with his Japanese wife, my mother also had a close encounter with a tiger.

My mother Lily recalled that she was about five years old and playing on the veranda, when she spotted a tiger cub in the garden.

“I thought it was a cat and so ran out, picked it up. Suddenly, our Chinese ‘amah’ (helper) screamed and rushed out. She grabbed me, bundled me back into the house and locked the main door and windows.

“She then started praying with her joss sticks,” my mother said.

It was just in time because a minute later, the mother appeared, approached the house, sniffed around and then grabbed her charge by the scruff of its neck and bounded off.

My personal association with Pahang royalty started in 1976 when I was a sports writer with The Malay Mail.

Assigned to cover a golf tournament at Fraser’s Hill, I met the 17-year-old Tengku Mahkota (crown prince) Tengku Abdullah, who was taking part.

After that we kept in touch when the young prince deputised in a Cobra rugby 10s tournament in 1980 and I told him I was being posted to Sarawak as The New Straits Times’ first Sarawak correspondent.

We met again in 1985 when the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Iskandar visited Sarawak. His entourage included Tengku Abdullah and the King’s daughter Tengku Azizah, whom Tengku Abdullah was engaged to.

To cover the King’s visit, I was invited to Miri to play golf in the same flight with Tengku Abdullah and other family members.

Years later whenever the Pahang football team played in Kuching, Tengku Abdullah would be there and we had some time to catch up.

In 1999, I was invited to report on the 25th Silver Jubilee celebration of Sultan Ahmad Shah in Pekan.

After covering the event and publishing a feature story on the Sultan, I was surprised that I had been awarded the title Ahli Mahkota Pahang and became a member of the order of the Crown of Pahang.

Early this year on Jan 24, Sultan Ahmad Shah ended his reign as Sultan of Pahang enabling his son Tengku Abdullah to succeed his father.

The timing was perfect as Sultan Muhammad of Kelantan had abdicated two weeks earlier, paving the way for Sultan Abdullah to become the 16th King of Malaysia.

Last April, I learnt that the King was in Kuching to attend the launch of Kuching’s famous Darul Hana fountain.

Sadly, I was not able to meet him as I was in Kota Kinabalu at the time. Even so, I was able to send my apologies and a framed picture, which I took of Sultan Ahmad Shah and his son at the Silver Jubilee celebration in 1999.

It was a poignant picture of a father embracing his son, who had waited patiently for 44 years before inheriting the mantle of kingship.

As the Malay saying goes, Patah Tumbuh, Hilang Berganti — despite mourning the loss of a beloved son, a new King is born.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.