PETALING JAYA: One of the two surviving founder members of The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur, Dr T. Thurairatnam (pic), died yesterday at the age of 76 following a long illness.
Trained as a dentist, Dr Thurairatnam had set up his own clinic and was also active later in arbitration.
However, to the depressed and suicidal, he may be better remembered as the former chairman of The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur, from 1983 to 1985.
Mary Raj, the present chairman of The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur, said he continued to have an interest in the organisation even after retirement.
“He kept in touch with what was happening. As a Befriender he had all the qualities required and was a good trainer.
“We always knew we could depend on him for advice.
“We will miss one of our very dedicated founder members, who was our link to the past.”
Dr Thurairatnam was one of a group of 13 who set up what was then known as the Churches Counselling Centre in 1970.
Another founder member, Methodist Bishop (now Emeritus) Datuk Dr Denis C. Dutton, provided a room above the hall at Wesley Methodist Church Kuala Lumpur and a phone line, free of charge.
In an earlier interview, Dr Thurairatnam had said that many of the callers had asked whether the counselling service was Christian-oriented.
So in 1972, the volunteers decided to rename themselves The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur.
When the late Rev Chad Varah, who started the Samaritans hotline in Britain, visited Malaysia, Dr Thurairatnam suggested the formation of a world grouping of similar organisations.
He added that the Befrienders in Malaysia would not mind if the new organisation was called The Befrienders International, which is still used today.
Dr Thurairatnam had wanted to set up a counselling helpline after he found out from psychiatrists that many patients did not really need treatment but “just a listening ear”.
He helped to raise funds so that the volunteers could move into their own building in Petaling Jaya in 1979.
Today, Befrienders get over 21,000 calls a year on its two hotlines manned by over 100 volunteers.
Dr Thurairatnam leaves behind wife Arulsothy, daughters Sunitha and Lavinia, and grandson Kishar Tarun.
The funeral service will be held at 10am today at Trinity Methodist Church, Petaling Jaya.