Heart and Soul: This Penangite was a scout leader aka an Akela

  • People
  • Friday, 28 May 2021

Khoo-Yeoh Gan Hong as a commanding officer, saluting at a youth rally farewell ceremony for Resident Commissioner Robert P. Bingham at the Esplanade, Penang, in 1957. — Photos: Liew Chiok San

It is always my cup of tea to interact with, and learn from, those senior in age. The elders are a treasure trove of knowledge. Khoo-Yeoh Gan Hong, a Penangite, was a scout leader aka an Akela. The wise old wolf of over 50 years was born in May 1928.

Khoo joined the scout movement as a wolf cub, and became a boy scout after the war years, at the Penang Free School. He was elected as a Troop Leader of the 1st Penang Troop of PFS. TL Khoo and his scouts used to meet at 115, MaCalister Road, where the Scout Headquarters was located. They learnt to plan and organise various activities there. Khoo recalled participating in a pantomime on juvenile delinquency,"To Regret Is Too Late", to help raise funds for St Nicholas Home.

The Patrol System (a small group of scouts with a leader in charge) is an integral part of scout training. The system plays a fundamental role in character-building for boys, which was the primary aim of Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting.

All the activities – camping, expeditions, first-aid and badge work, games, public services – are the means to help boys to develop the mind and body. Through these activities, a scout also learns to be creative in his surroundings, to use whatever materials available to carry out his tasks. The boys learn to be innovative, resourceful and to improvise, traits which can be adopted in their later lives. Scouting helped Khoo in this respect.

The Scout Law is the overall framework of the movement. When a boy observes the 10 laws, he is not only a true scout, but a gentleman as well. Nevertheless, Khoo admits that the law “simple it is, easy it isn’t”. The Scout Law is a guide in one’s life as the virtues mould a boy to be successful in his career and life, thus becoming a better person.

Having passed his swimming test, this young lad could swim well, but a swimming session with friends in the indoor pool of the mansion of Kapitan Chung Thye Pin in Relau, Penang, nearly cost him his life. Khoo got into difficulties at the deeper section of the pool. He shouted for help but his friends thought it was a prank so they ignored him.

He nearly gave up before his last attempt to save himself, and succeeded by clutching a flight of rusty steps of the pool. The unforgettable ordeal taught him to never take matters for granted, even though he could swim. Always be careful.

There was no doubt that scouting had a special corner in his heart. Khoo applied to join the teaching profession, to be a scoutmaster in school, just to continue his scouting career. He became a teacher in 1950 at the Westland School and later, the scoutmaster. Luck was with him. Khoo was selected to join the teachers’ course at the Malayan Teachers’ Training College in Kirkby, Liverpool, England in 1952.

Scout leader Khoo-Yeoh Gan Hong in 2004.Scout leader Khoo-Yeoh Gan Hong in 2004.

Through the scout club there, he grabbed the opportunity to attend the scoutmasters’ Woodbadge Course at the Gilwell Park International Centre, near London. Ever active and optimistic, Khoo applied to join another Teacher Trainers’ Course in 1961, to improve his career, at the MTTC at Kirkby. Opportunity knocked twice on his door, and he had a second privilege to be at Gilwell Park for the “Training The Team Course” to be an Assistant Leader Trainer.

What did he learn at Gilwell?

Khoo reminisced that those good old days provided him a wide scope of experience, especially on one’s resourcefulness, on how to lead and guide others. To be a quality leader, one must be able to earn the respect of others, in order to lead effectively.

Khoo was grateful to possess good human relations, in order to gain the cooperation of those under him, when he was the State Scout Commissioner of Penang. Looking back, he opines that a Gilwell trained scoutmaster should also guard his ego, and he set a good example for others to emulate.

It is commendable to serve others but Khoo has this advice for readers: “Do not neglect your other roles and responsibilities to your family.” The thought of settling down did not cross his mind until someone eventually reminded him. He said in jest, “It was love at first thought and not love at first sight.” He did not get married to scouting and finally tied the knot with a sweet, young school teacher at the age of 34. They are blessed with five children.

For his selfless service through scouting and other non-governmental organisations, Khoo is qualified to be considered as one of the sons of Penang. He was awarded the Darjah Setia Pangkuan Negeri (DSPN) which carries the title Datuk on July 12,2014.

This 93-year-old nonagenarian usually wakes up at 5.30am and starts off the day with a short meditation session to cultivate his samadhi (concentration). Being thankful, Datuk Khoo used to remind himself that for a man his age, it is already a big bonus to maintain a sound mind and body. He had been given a "second life" after the near-drowning incident.

The dawn of another new day energises him with new hope and, to him, he should not let the hours skip away wastefully.

“Just do something useful as my daily good turn, and that will be my idea of a perfect day, ” said the senior wolf.

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