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Wheel Power

Published: Thursday July 3, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday July 3, 2014 MYT 12:03:07 PM

Peter Young: A dear friend to the disabled and downtrodden

True pal: The late Peter Young.

True pal: The late Peter Young.

Most of us enjoy having friends. Last Saturday, I lost a treasured friend named Peter John Young. He passed away in his home in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. He was 88.

As I look back on our friendship, I’m really amazed at the remarkable way in which our relationship developed over the years. When I first met Peter, he was more than three times my age. I was barely 15 years old then. It was exactly five years after a botched surgery in 1970 left me in a wheelchair.

I stopped going to school because the primary school that I attended was not wheelchair friendly. Not only did I lose the opportunity to continue with my education, I virtually had no friends as a result. I spent my time confined in my room as a teenager.

I heard about Peter Young through some relatives. I was particularly interested in meeting him after I learnt that he had pioneered a local adaptation of my favourite Christian musical which I had on audio cassette.

I couldn’t attend the shows held in the local churches, so I figured the next best thing was to get him to visit me in my home. All it took was one phone call from me to his office. The next thing I knew, Peter was at my home in the afternoon. I was very touched that someone as important as Peter would literally rush over to visit an unknown stranger like me.

Peter brought along a motivational book as a present. It talked about the unlimited power that we all inherently possess in order to change bad things into good things. I finished the book in three days. The following week, Peter was back in my house with the sequel.

From then on, our friendship grew. We would meet more often. When we didn’t, there was always the telephone.

I was fascinated with Peter’s knowledge and his experiences of the outside world. He was a missionary from England. However, he listened more than he preached, especially when dealing with persons with a disability.

Peter knew how I hated my brief encounters with the church, especially those times when I was treated like an object for healing by faith healers. It was Peter who finally managed to convince me to go to church – not so much for myself but to raise awareness among church members about the needs of persons with disabilities.

Peter used to take me to churches that had invited him as a speaker where – unknown to others – we would work as a team. Whenever he mentioned disabled persons’ rights, he would wink at me from the pulpit. And when it was question time, it was my turn to ask the right questions or make pertinent points.

Our labour started to yield results as churches became more disabled friendly and provided accessible car parks, and encouraged participation from the blind and Deaf.

When it came to people with disabilities, Peter felt that the able-bodied should not stand in their way. This eventually led him to help pioneer a local movement where persons with learning disabilities formed their own society and started speaking up for themselves.

But it was his love for animals and my service dogs that brought us closest to each other. After I learnt how to drive, one of our favourite meeting places was in my car with my dogs. We would go for a spin around the neighbourhood with waggy tails in the back seat and talk about virtually everything under the sun. All I needed to do was to give him a call and say I was driving over, and our meeting was confirmed.

There were also many tender moments. The most painful was when one of his dogs died after it was accidentally locked in his car. Peter rang me up and wept like a child, at his loss. All I could do was hold on to the receiver and think of my dogs and cry, too.

I will never forget the countless times he was there for me during the many weeks and months of hospitalisation. He would turn up sometimes late at night like an angel and comforted me till my worries disappeared.

Peter was proudest when I started writing Wheel Power for The Star in the 1990s. Not only did I feature some of his thoughts in this column, I used to ask him to run through some of my more difficult stories before I submit them for publication.

“Your column is a godsend. Use it wisely, my dear Anthony, to be a storyteller for change for the disabled community,” he’d always tell me.

  • The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Lifestyle, anthony thanasayan, peter young

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