GEORGE TOWN: Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, 91, who served as Penang Chief Minister for 21 years, was a towering leader who presided over the remarkable economic transformation of the state.
He led a simple life despite a political career spanning 39 years, shunning awards and titles, and only accepting a Tunship after retirement from politics.
When he took over as Penang’s second chief minister in May 1969, the state was going through a difficult period after the withdrawal of its free port status, with unemployment rising to 16.4%.
He implemented the Free Trade Zone concept in Penang – the first state to do so – wooed foreign investments and built one of the largest electronics manufacturing bases in Asia, earning Penang the tag as Silicon Valley of the East.
Dr Lim also presided over Batu Ferringhi’s transformation into a tourism belt, cleared pre-war houses to build the iconic 65-storey Komtar and built the Penang Bridge.
Born in Penang, Dr Lim attended Penang Free School. In 1937, he was a King’s scholar at Edinburgh University in Scotland and graduated in 1944 with a medical degree.
Formerly a medical officer with the Chinese Armed Forces, he founded the Radical Party in 1951 which won the first municipal council elections in George Town.
In 1954, he joined MCA and was a member of the Razak Commission for Education.
Despite defeating the late Tun Tan Cheng Lock for party presidency in 1958, he quit MCA a year later following differences with Umno over the allocation of parliamentary seats in the 1959 general election.
He formed the United Democratic Party in 1962 and co-founded Gerakan in 1968, which swept the Alliance ruling coalition out of office in the 1969 general election, leading to his appointment as Chief Minister.
However, in 1973, Gerakan, together with the Alliance Party, formed a coalition called Barisan Nasional.
In 1980, Dr Lim stepped down as party president, saying there were “many young and promising leaders in the party just as capable to hold the post”, and was succeeded by (Tun) Dr Lim Keng Yaik in 1980.
He continued as Chief Minister but retired after losing the Padang Kota state seat in the 1990 general election. He was succeeded by his former political secretary, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, as chief minister.
His message to the party then was to “always remember its roots and humble beginnings”.
After retiring from politics, he became a passionate horse breeder and turned his attention to business as chairman and adviser to several large corporations.
In 2007, he was named founding chancellor of Wawasan Open University in Penang.
Lim’s legacy will not be forgotten, especially by Penangites.
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