PETALING JAYA: Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim, widely regarded as Malaysia's national historian, died of lung failure on Tuesday morning (May 28) at the University Malaya Medical Centre at the age of 82.
Born in 1937 to Peranakan Chinese parents in Kampar, Perak, Khoo started out wanting to be a football player, but eventually chose to go to university.
It led him to a scholarly life, dedicated to history.
Khoo, who graduated from Universiti Malaya, never slowed down in the academic field, spending decades shaping the course of education history in the country.
He served for over 50 years in Universiti Malaya’s history department, becoming a lecturer first in 1967 and, subsequently, gaining his professorship and appointment as the chair of Malaysian History from 1974 up to his retirement in 1992.
He maintained an office there, post-retirement.
In modern Malaysia, he will be remembered as one of the instrumental figures in the drafting of the Rukun Negara (National Principles) to foster national cohesion, following the aftermath of the 1969 race riots.
As the author of countless works in the English and Malay language, his essays and writings have been a primary source of reference for the history curriculum in Malaysia. He was most noted for his work The Western Malay States 1850–1873, which was published in 1972.
“Education is not based on theories. It must be learnt by going out of the classroom.
"It is not about passing exam, but it goes beyond that,” he was once quoted as saying.
He was still researching history and actively participating in public life in his 80s. The last few years had been busy for Khoo, as he was regularly invited as a guest lecturer, head of panels for academic forums and evaluation panel for history-related publications.
"I have not considered myself retired! I’m still doing research, and finding so many things about Malaysia which have not been revealed.
"This country is an amazing country. You cannot just see a few things and expect people to understand it fully," he was quoted as saying in an interview in The Star in May, 2017.
He published his memoir "I, KKK – The Autobiography of a Historian" in early 2017. That same year, he was given the distinction of Tokoh Akademik Negara ke-10 in recognition of his achievements in the academic world.
“The child is the father of the man. Educate and groom the young person, and he will grow up to be the right kind of adult. If you wait until he becomes an adult, it is too late,” he was quoted as saying when he was named recipient of the prestigious Merdeka Award in 2018.