Insight into a great leader

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 11 Jun 2003


KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Mohamed Abid can still remember clearly the day when he drove his grandfather Datuk Onn Jaafar to the Johor Baru General Hospital in 1961. 

Looking into the rear view mirror of the car, he saw tears rolling down his grandfather’s cheeks. 

The legendary Malay leader was relating a story to his wife, Datin Halimah Hussein, an incident of how he was ignored after he had been out of the government. 

Onn narrated an incident outside the Coliseum Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur after he had lunch. 

While waiting for his daughter’s car to send him to Parliament for the afternoon session, a car slowed down in front of him. 

On seeing Onn, the senior government officer, who was sitting inside the car, quickly turned his head to the other side. 

Datuk Mohamed Abid

This officer thought he wanted a lift. Onn, who was then the Opposition Leader, was hurt by the snub. 

But much more than that, it was because Onn had recommended the officer for a Johor state scholarship to study in England when Onn was the mentri besar – and that was the officer’s only opportunity. 

“My grandmother then told him that 'you (Onn) are a nobody now and people do not want to be associated with you',” said Mohamed, who was 19 years old then. 

Onn, the founder of Umno and first party president, left in 1951 and later formed the Independence Malaya Party and Parti Negara, of which he was the sole MP for Parti Negara.  

Mohamed, fondly known as Pak Abid, was born in Onn’s house at No. 2, Jalan Tebrau, Johor Baru. 

Onn had married his younger brother Muhammad Jaafar’s widow Datin Halimah Hussein. 

Mohamed, now 60, was brought up by Onn after his father Abid Muhammad died when he was three in September 1945. 

He has included this personal conversation between his grandparents in his book entitled Reflections of Pre-Independence Malaya. 

He witnessed many events that went on in Onn’s life, as he was part of the household until he left for Kuala Lumpur to further his studies in August 1961. 

“Even then, I travelled frequently to Johor Baru to be with him as he was unwell. Throughout 1961 until his death in January 1962, I was privy to many conversations on politics that he had with my grandmother,” said Mohamed in an interview. 

The 216-page book also tells about Onn’s life, his family, acquaintances and trusted friends, Umno and his pre-independence politics. 

Mohamed was inspired to write the book after he related a few stories about Onn to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his deputy Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi during a private function recently. 

“Dr Mahathir, besides being fascinated with the stories, said he was sad that the younger generation did not know these stories and had very little knowledge about the sacrifices made by Umno's past leaders in working towards political independence” said Mohamed.  

The book also contains anecdotes by Onn’s family members including Lt Jen (Rtd) Datuk Jaafar, Azah and Puan Sri Norziah, Jen (Rtd) Tan Sri Mohd Ghazali Seth and Prof Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas. 

It also includes personal excerpts of Onn’s trusted friend Datin Paduka Siti Saleha Mohd Ali, who is the elder sister of Datin Seri Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali. 

Another interesting revelation in the book was by Azah about Onn who passed away with only RM300 in his bank account and only RM30 on him. 

Mohamed took a month to complete the book, which was supported by 18 speeches by Onn in his capacity as Umno president from 1946 to 1951. 

There are also photographs illustrating the historical moments involving the Umno president throughout his life. 

“It is difficult to recollect events that happened more than 50 years ago but it’s made possible with the help of family members,” said Mohamed. 

The book also tells of interesting accounts involving Mohd Seth, the then Acting Johor Mentri Besar, who represented Sultan Ibrahim of Johor in the second Merdeka mission to London in January 1956 for the Independence negotiations with the British Government. 

Mohd Seth was selected as the representative of the Sultan of Johor.  

Mohd Seth had taken a great risk by agreeing with the representatives of other Rulers, thus going against Sultan Ibrahim’s instruction not to commit to anything on his behalf then. 

There are also excerpts from a special interview with Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib, who is Onn’s nephew, on pertinent issues including the Umno flag and the Federal Constitution. 

Other prominent historical figures mentioned in the book are Tunku Abdul Rahman who regarded Onn as a man of vision, Governor-General of South-East Asia Malcolm MacDonald and British High Commissioner Sir Gerald Templer. 

The book will be published by Pelanduk Publications (M) Sdn Bhd and launched by Dr Mahathir tomorrow. 

For further information, contact the publisher at 03-56386885, fax: 56386577 or e-mail  

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