A kind mentor in Auntie Paulette

In memory of a Scrabble stalwart.

ALL eyes were on the chocolate cake as soon as it came out of the oven. The tantalising aroma of the freshly-baked treat drew the small, hungry crowd to the dining table. We waited in eager anticipation. Auntie Paulette, as she was known among her circle of young Scrabble enthusiasts, baked such rich, moist chocolate cakes.

I count myself lucky to have had Paulette as my friend. How we met is kind of interesting. I was 17 and it was just before my SPM trial exams. Instead of revising my school work, I used to play Scrabble online on ISC (Internet Scrabble Club) till past midnight.

One night, I was playing with a lady nicknamed Yin. As we were playing, she introduced herself and we became online Scrabble friends. I would play Scrabble with her till past midnight and she would unequivocally command me to go to bed and I would oblige. But instead of sleeping, I would continue observing Scrabble games online, until my mother echoed the exact words from her room next door.

Known for her chattiness and friendliness, Paulette often shared numerous stories of the many people who left an indelible imprint on her mind. She talked about youngsters she was proud of, such as Ong Suanne, champion of the World Youth Scrabble Championship 2009, and runner-up in the same tournament, Alastair Richards.

To Suanne, Paulette was a vivacious, bubbly lady with lots of hugs and cupcakes to give away.

“I’ve known her since I was six. She used to sit me on her knee. She was always so encouraging. Scrabble to her was more than just a game. As much as she enjoyed the game itself, she valued the friendships that came along with it. She had the ability to make any opponent feel at home. Above all, most of us will remember the warmth that she exuded across the Scrabble board and elsewhere,” said Suanne.

Paulette also regularly attended international Scrabble tournaments such as the King’s Cup in Bangkok and the ever-growing Causeway Scrabble Challenge in Johor.

Dianne Ward from Australia shared about the first time she played Paulette in Bangkok several years ago.

“She kept telling me she wasn’t any good while she proceeded to play four bingoes against me,” reminisced Dianne. It was the game in which Paulette played the nine-letter word CAREGIVER, one of her proudest finds.

She also received plaques for her undying support from 2000 to 2004, from the organisers of the Equatorial Scrabble Competition, held annually at the time in Cameron Highlands. Other recipients included fellow Scrabble players Nigel Richards, Jocelyn Lor and Yeap Gim Sai.

Yeap regarded Paulette as her best friend. Though they were different – Paulette was outgoing and adventurous while Yeap is quiet and conservative – they complemented each other. “We had a great time together. She would hug me when we met and swing me off my feet!” recalled Yeap.

Paulette and Yeap were avid treasure hunt partners who took part in competitions such as the Kiwanis Hunt and the Sun Motor Hunt. Paulette was amazing when it came to deciphering tricky treasure hunt clues.

In the midst of all this excitement, Paulette was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago. Her indomitable spirit kept her going and she lived life to the fullest. Her daughter, Lim Sha-lyn, said: “She put the cancer at the back of her mind. All she wanted to do was to make a difference to other people’s lives.”

Paulette appeared energetic and cheerful every time I met her. When asked about her secret, she mentioned a home-made tea she brewed daily using a type of leafy plant known locally as daun pecah beling or Strobilanthes Crispus, which she sun-dried, to give her the extra strength.

Her passion for little children took her to Pattaya in Thailand, as a volunteer for child victims of the 2004 tsunami. Paulette also spent a lot of time volunteering in the paediatric wards in the Penang General Hospital.

Early this year, Paulette was warded at the hospital as her condition deteriorated. Though in pain, she remained cheerful and positive to the end. Paulette is sorely missed by many.

To commemorate her love of the game, the Paulette Yeoh Memorial Scrabble Tournament will be held on Oct 9 and 10 at City Bayview Hotel, Penang. For more information, please visit www.penster.com.my.

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