AFTER 30 years with the Education Ministry, Dr Ho Nee Yong – the trusted right-hand man of three deputy education ministers – is retiring.
“I am definitely going to miss working here,” he says, gesturing to his usually crowded room located just behind that of his boss, Datuk Hon Choon Kim.
The last 12 years of his life have been spent working in that room, serving Woon See Chin, Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn (1995-1999), and since 1999, Hon.
“I like to tell people that during my time here I have served four education ministers and three deputy education ministers. Working with each one of them was different and exciting,” Dr Ho says.
His room is now clear. Perhaps indicative of the clean slate that is the new phase of his life.
Starting off as a teacher in 1969, Dr Ho worked and educated his way up, earning a doctorate from Preston University, in the United States, about two months ago.
“Slowly but surely, I completed 10 years of study in 30 years,” he says, laughing.
He explains that after doing his O-Levels, he took two years to complete his Higher School Certificate, four for an Economics degree from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, a year for a Masters in Organisation, Planning and Management in Education from the University of Reading in Britain, and the last three working towards his PhD.
“You see, it adds up to 10 years but I took three times longer.”
Quite an achievement by any account, but more so considering he started his working life serving as a teacher for over seven years before taking time off to obtain a degree.
“Nothing is so difficult as the beginning,” Dr Ho says, quoting a famous saying that holds true for him.
”I knew what I wanted to do. It was my dream to obtain a PhD before retirement.
“Getting started was the most difficult part but after that there was just no turning back. We have to make the most of our opportunities,” he adds.
After obtaining his first degree, Dr Ho served again as a teacher for four years with SM Methodist in Kuala Lumpur.
Since then, he has held numerous positions in the ministry, including senior positions with the Federal Territory Education Department, the ministry’s Educational Planning and Research Division and, finally, as senior confidential secretary to the deputy education minister.
“My wife, too, was a teacher but she opted out of serving public schools to work in a kindergarten,” says Dr Ho, who has two daughters and a grandson.
Known best for his untiring contribution towards the welfare of Chinese schools, Dr Ho is remembered by Education Director-General Datuk Abdul Rafie Mahat as a “very nice man who knows his work very well”.
“If there is one thing I must say about him, it is that he is a very dedicated person who has poured his heart and soul to serve the Chinese community,” he adds.
So well versed is Dr Ho with the education system that Hon himself admits to having depended on him during his first few months at the ministry.
“I was new to education and Ho basically taught me everything,” Hon says modestly.
When Star Education caught up with Hon and Ho to document the latter’s retirement, the closeness and camaraderie shared among the officers at Hon’s office was evident.
For a group photo, they willingly posed and teased each other like old friends.
Such was Dr Ho's reputation that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad handpicked him as the Mandarin translator for his book, The Way Forward, launched in 1999.
“I was truly grateful for the opportunity to translate the thoughts of our leader for the Chinese community,” says Dr Ho.
As for his future, he says he has no immediate plans but will consider offers to serve the education industry, albeit in the private sector this time around.
“Actually I want to continue learning the violin (an interest he acquired two years ago).
“In life, attitude is everything. I will just keep my upbeat attitude about things and enjoy my retirement for now,” he says.