Heart and Soul: Cherished mementoes of a top cop

Bronze medallion with the image of US President Johnson – presented on the occasion of his Asia-Pacific visit in 1966. Photos: Rafique Sher Mohamed

There was something special about the simple sliding glass door cabinet located in a prominent position in the hall of our home, after father had retired in 1969.

The contents were his personal memorabilia collected during his 35 years of service with the police force. They were not particularly lavish but every item was worth its weight in gold, worthy of display in a museum.

A major portion was occupied by his glittering sterling silver cups of various sizes, which he was able to salvage during the war, which denoted his athletic achievement as a champion police track and field athlete early in his career in the 1930s. Unfortunately, many of his big silver trophies were lost during this time.

Other items included his regular khaki working uniform and ceremonial regalia with their original silver buttons with the police emblem, his senior police officer’s sword with its silver metal scabbard, amulets with the pips indicating his last rank, and his police cap.

All the medals that he was awarded for his distinguished service were nicely organised in a decorative wooden box.

There were other memorable souvenirs: one from former US President Lyndon Johnson and the other from former President Ferdinand Marcos, who visited Malaysia in 1966 and 1968 respectively together with their First Ladies, Lady Bird Johnson and Imelda Marcos, in their original velvet boxes. And a few photographs of him in uniform, including one with the trophies he had amassed in a sports meet in 1937.

Rafique’s father’s collectibles have pride of place in a rosewood cabinet. Rafique’s father’s collectibles have pride of place in a rosewood cabinet.

The cabinet was an impressive but humble showcase representing my father’s pride, honour and glory. It held both sentimental and historical connection. He took pains to polish his prized silver cups every year, to retain their glitter as if it reflected his integrity and reputation. An authentic manifestation of his drive and determination in the sports field, they were held close to his heart with great memories. After his passing in 1996, mother saw to it that this practice continued as a tribute to his memory.

Not once did father ever blow his own trumpet in anyone’s presence, be they his friends or family members. When there were inquiries, in his self-effacing demeanour, his comments were brief, barely providing any input to the information sought. We were too preoccupied with our own lives to show a deeper interest in the items in the cabinet while father was still around. We were satisfied that they were important and meant a great deal to him. So the years passed.

When we had children, they would look into the cabinet inquisitively and we would just tell them that their grandpa was a sportsman with an illustrious police career.

After father was gone, his cherished mementoes took on a completely different perspective for his family. I began to realise then that they represented the greatest moments in my father’s life and that there was a story to be told behind every single item in the cabinet.

After 48 years, my attention was drawn to President Johnson’s souvenir medallion in conjunction with his Asia-Pacific visit.

All these years, we had not taken much heed to this solid bronze souvenir in the cabinet. Suddenly it now took centre stage and I decided to dig deeper. At this time, father was the Deputy CPO of Selangor, based in Kuala Lumpur, and he was entrusted with the security of the US President. It was a short 20-hour visit and, except for a quick trip to Negri Sembilan, the President’s official itinerary was mostly in the city.

Reverse side of former US President Johnson’s bronze medallion.Reverse side of former US President Johnson’s bronze medallion.

Being dedicated and committed to any given challenging task, father did not rest until all the planning and coordination with the American side went like clockwork.

Though the visit was short, I can imagine it must have been all systems go months before the President’s arrival. Nothing can be said better than the words of his boss in the following congratulatory message:

“Now that the visit of the American President is over, I feel I owe it to all those officers and men who worked tirelessly and relentlessly in ensuring that the events connected with the visit went smoothly. I know that in this contingent no one else was more concerned with the overall problem as yourself.

“The fact that all official functions were conducted without a hitch is a matter of satisfaction for all of us. In the planning and execution of the numerous details, your personal attention and guidance has been an inspiration to many a junior officer.

“May I take this opportunity to thank you for your splendid leadership which contributed in no small measure to the successful conclusion of the visit.”

Father had gone all out to ensure President Johnson’s visit to Malaysia was a success.

Some years after father’s demise, Mother quietly purchased a distinguished rosewood cabinet and transferred father’s treasured contents into it. Lo and behold, a major transformation, befitting its impressive collection, took place, as if the collection was bestowed with special honours. Indeed, when the time came, an even greater honour was deserved, when we parted with several items, including his old typewriter (a relic from his past) by donating them to the Royal Malaysia Police Museum.

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