First Malaysian mayor of town in West Yorkshire was always hardworking and helpful, says brother

Chris Pillai, who made Malaysia proud by becoming the first Malaysian-born mayor of Calderdale, West Yorkshire in England, with his wife Beverly Pillai. — Picture courtesy of Nadarajah Krishnapillai.

SEREMBAN: Nadarajah Krishnapillai vividly remembers the call he got over a year ago from his brother Chris when the latter was appointed the first Malaysian-born mayor of a town in West Yorkshire, England.

The retired teacher and his wife had just finished lunch at their home in Taman Labu Jaya here when the phone rang around 2pm in the afternoon in May last year.

It was Chris calling to inform his 'anne' (big brother) that he had just been elected mayor of Calderdale.

"The news was such an unexpected surprise and we were all over the moon.

"My brother had been a councillor for several terms, but who would have dreamt that he would be mayor one day?" he said when met at his home.

Nadarajah, 82 is the older and only brother of Gemas-born councillor Chris Pillai JP who was sworn in on May 19 as mayor of the borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire in an official ceremony.

Chris was to take on the district mayorship post in May last year but could only carry out his duties as mayor-elect until now due to the pandemic.

Nadarajah said that his brother truly deserved the appointment as he was a hardworking and helpful person by nature.

Though there is an age gap between the brothers, Nadarajah said they were very close and got along well with each other.

"Chris used to help me around the house all the time. If I was changing a light bulb, he would be right there by my side holding the bulb," he said.

Chris - whose given name is Thiruvenkatar - is the fifth of six siblings to parents originally from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and the only one born in Negri Sembilan.

Three of his siblings have since passed on.

The family moved around a lot as their father, an employee of Malayan Railways, was posted to towns across the country.

Chris spent his formative years in Ipoh and Seremban before completing his secondary education at the Methodist Boys' School in Kuala Lumpur in 1970.

His eldest sister Parimala Kanthi, 84, said that Chris, the younger of her two brothers, was the only one of the siblings to move abroad in search of a better future.

Chris' parents pooled their savings together to fund their son's journey to the United Kingdom.

"In the early 1970s, it was difficult to get a job so thambi (younger brother) applied to train as a nurse in England.

"At the time, we had returned to Seremban for good, and it was from here that he set off for England," she said adding that her two children later followed in their uncle's footsteps and her son now lives some 50km from Chris.

Both siblings have fond memories of Chris and his family - wife Beverly and sons James, Jonathan and George.

Nadarajah said though his brother's last visit to Malaysia was almost a decade ago, they kept in touch several times a week through Skype or video calls.

"Despite being in England for half a century, my brother is still very much a Malaysian at heart. He speaks like any one of us, and when our parents were alive, he would always make it a point to converse in Tamil to them," he said.

Parimala, who has visited Chris in England, noted that Chris would take his family around whenever he was down, which included holidays in Penang to explore the attractions.

"He loves Chinese food so that will always be on his list," she said.

Chris started his nursing training and career at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

Since then, he has held many roles within the healthcare sector including that of a senior nurse at Greenwich Area Health Authority, London (1984-1988), director/partner of Ivy House Nursing and Residential Home, Brighouse (1989-2004), and the non-executive director of the South West Yorkshire Mental Health Trust (2002-2006).

The 70-year old entered public office as a member of Calderdale Council in May 2011.

He was Calderdale Council’s deputy mayor from 2018 to 2021.

As the chairman of West Yorkshire's Augustinians Cricket Club, something he is deeply passionate about, Chris was instrumental in raising £80,000 (about RM467,015) for the club's development.

Many of the club's players hail from the area's South Asian community.

Nadarajah, who has never been to England, expressed hope that he would be able to visit his thambi as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

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