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Thursday September 20, 2012

Malaysian Jenny Loynton helping Queen E reach out to ethnic communities

A lawyer from Malaysia is helping Queen Elizabeth II reach out to ethnic communities in Britain.

DRESSED in a royal blue tailored dress, Jenny Loynton gave me a warm smile and said, “It’s so good to be back in Malaysia.”

Having lived in Britain for the last 32 years, Loynton spoke with a British lilt, but she would let slip hints of Malaysian expressions every now and then.

She shoulders many responsibilities – as wife, mother, a director of a law firm and now, as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Deputy Lieutenant of and for the West Midlands in Britain. Loyton, 50, is the first Malaysian to have been appointed to this role – one which she has held for the past two years.

Achieving great things:
Jenny Loyton is the first
Malaysian to have been
appointed as Her Majesty
Queen Elizabeth II’s Deputy
Lieutenant of and for the
West Midlands in Britain. Achieving great things: Jenny Loyton is the first Malaysian to have been appointed as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Deputy Lieutenant of and for the West Midlands in Britain.

Essentially, Loynton serves as the deputy to Lord Lieutenant of the West Midlands, Paul Sabapathy, who is given the honorary task to represent the British monarch at various functions.

“The West Midlands is quite a large county. My job is to assist the Lord Lieutenant in representing the Queen for fêtes, hospital visits and the various functions that reach out to the different communities within the area,” Loynton explained, noting that this has been an extremely busy year as it’s the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Nevertheless, she recently made time to attend a nephew’s wedding in Petaling Jaya, Selangor – a trip which coincided with the official visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and his wife Catherine, who were on a nine-day tour of the Far East as representatives of Her Majesty in conjunction with the celebrations to mark her 60-year reign.

Called to serve

So how exactly did Loynton end up working for the Royal Family?

“Her Majesty wanted to reach out to the ethnic minorities, and I happened to have a law firm at the heart of the Chinese community in Birmingham. It was also about the time the monarch had a representative from one of the Commonwealth countries. So, I couldn’t have been a better fit, really,” she said.

Loynton had no clue what the role entailed when she first received the news via a phone call from the Lord Lieutenant himself.

“I initially thought it was just something that would take a year of my time. I couldn’t believe it when he told me I would be carrying the title till I was 70! It was such an honour to have been entrusted with the responsibility. But at that time, all I could think of was: ‘Why me? They must have made a mistake.’

“It never dawned on me how important a role Malaysia carried as a Commonwealth country. I was told that Her Majesty has very high regards for members of the Commonwealth, and that she was very fond of Malaysia herself,” recalled Loynton, who added it had been a “fantastic two years”.

Loynton, who is also on the Board of Governors of the Birmingham City University, has since embraced the title with much pride and purpose.

One of the most interesting events that she was a part of involved the acknowledgement of families with ancestral roots linked to royalty.

“If a family manages to trace their ancestral roots back to royalty, they will be granted a family crest. I was fortunate enough to have been able to grant that to two families, on behalf of Her Majesty. Tracing your ancestral roots is no easy task, so it was all very emotional for the families,” she recalled.

Nothing is impossible

Loynton has certainly come a long way. While she spoke so fondly of her new found experiences, Loynton allowed her emotions to take over when she reminisced about her childhood.

Born in Taiping, Perak, Loynton grew up with four of her siblings in the Thai Buddhist temple, Wat Bodhiyaram.

“My father was Indian and my mother was half Thai, half Chinese. She died shortly after giving birth to me and my father just abandoned us in the temple. My eldest sister Nelly, who was only 17 then, had to take care of us,” she said.

And never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that she would one day become a lawyer, or even remotely successful.

“I was very fortunate that my sister Nancy and her husband Chris [Boyd] kindly agreed to pay for my education overseas. I went to Liverpool University and I chose law purely by accident. I had no clue what a lawyer does – I only took it up because it was the cheapest course available for foreign students.”

After graduation, Loynton spent the first two years of her career training to become a solicitor.

“It was the most difficult two years because I was put in a socially disadvantaged area. I remember having to deal with this incest case and I was so disgusted by it. I then decided that having a legal profession in the UK was not something that I wanted. I was ready to pack my bags and head back to Malaysia.”

However, after a chance meeting with a prominent businessman from Hong Kong, Loynton was handed a golden opportunity: to become the equity partner of a law firm that catered to the Chinese community in Birmingham.

Despite not knowing any Cantonese, a dialect that her clients conversed in, Loynton took up the challenge and brushed up on her Cantonese skills within a year.

She has since set up her own firm, Loynton & Co, specialising in commercial property and Chinese legal issues.

Loynton & Co currently has a staff of 10 and is associated with the second largest law firm in the West Midlands, Martineau.

“Running a business isn’t easy. To top it off, there I was: a non-Chinese-looking lady trying to make things work in a Chinese community. Initially, for my clients to take me seriously, I had to put on heavier make-up just to look older.”

The monk’s advice

Career challenges aside, Loynton also had to cope with personal tragedies with husband Paul Goodwin, a businessman.

“Before I had my first child, I had to go through six miscarriages. I didn’t have my first daughter until I was 38. I had my second when I was 41 and again, there were miscarriages in between,” she revealed.

The mother-of-two credits her strength and resilience to the advice of the head monk who helped raise her in the temple.

“I spent a lot of time with him when I was growing up. When the time came for me to leave for the UK for my studies, I went to say goodbye to him and told him that I was terrified of what laid ahead.

“He told me not to worry and said that he knew all along that I was ‘destined for big things’. He said I would encounter personal setbacks, but that those would only make me stronger.”

Loynton was then presented with a farewell gift: a tiny betel nut that she has kept close to her till today.

“The monk said to me: ‘This beetle nut is valueless. But if you look at its pattern, it’s very complicated, and that’s what life is all about. You need a very specific knife to be able to cut it up – that represents your spirit; it cannot be broken except in a very particular way. So don’t you worry. Good times, bad times, just keep thinking about home.’ And I’ve believed in that ever since.

“I was taught that if I had good health, adequate sleep and enough food to eat, I shouldn’t be asking for anything more. I’m 50 this year and I think I’ve achieved things that I never thought that I could ever achieve. I don’t know what the next 10 years will bring; I don’t know what the next 20 years will be like. But for now, every day is a good day.”

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