GEORGE TOWN: A stalwart in her heyday, politician extraordinaire, Gerakan’s iron lady, Datuk Kee Phaik Cheen has succumbed to complications arising from Covid-19.
She was 74.
In a statement released by her husband Dr Choong Sim Poey, he said that Kee passed away at 2.40pm yesterday at Gleneagles Medical Centre here.
He said she passed away peacefully as he held her hand in her last hour as she slipped away.
“None of the drugs or machines could help her.
“I talked to her and told her hundreds of friends wished her well.
“We had a long 45-year journey together which ended too soon.
“I told her that our memories will never die,” he said.
Both Kee and Dr Choong tested positive for Covid-19 last month and were hospitalised.
Dr Choong, when contacted, said Kee was in the hospital for over a month.
“I have recovered from Covid-19. For now, we are still working on the funeral arrangements. It will probably just be for family and friends due to Covid-19 restrictions,” he said.
One of Penang’s most influential politicians in the past few decades, Kee reigned over three terms as the Penang executive councillor in charge of tourism.
As former Tourism Malaysia deputy chairman, she was instrumental in shoring up Penang’s reputation in the field of heritage, culture, arts, and food.
Considered an “orang lama” (old-timer) in the Penang political scene, she served four terms as Batu Uban assemblyman from 1986 to 2004.
She was the state’s culture, arts, tourism and women development committee chairman from 1990 until 2004.
Kee was national Wanita Gerakan chief from 1985 to 2002 before she was defeated by Datuk Rhina Bhar.
She decided to pass on the baton to younger leaders in 2004 after being in public service for 23 years.
In 2008, Kee made a comeback in the local tourism scene when she was named the Penang Tourism Action Council (PTAC) chairman.
She was Tourism Malaysia deputy chairman and its board member and audit committee chairman.
Former Pantai Jerejak assemblyman Wong Mun Hoe, who worked as her special assistant and political secretary for ten years from 1994, said Kee was not just a boss but a family friend.
“I have known her for 36 years, with our friendship forming before I started working with her. She was always cheerful, bubbly and pleasant to everyone. People who know her will say that she was a kind and generous person who always tried to help others.
“Her passing is a big loss to the community and state,” he said.
Wong said on the work front, Kee was always on the go and he had to keep up with her.
“She was a workaholic and took her job seriously, whether it is politics or official work.
“She gave her entire life to helping the state,” he said.
Former chief minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon said Kee should be remembered for her great contributions towards tourism development in Penang and Malaysia.
“I feel very saddened by her untimely demise. I have known her since we were in Sixth Form in the Methodist Boys’ School (MBS) Penang in 1965. I became close to her and her husband, Dr Choong, after I joined Gerakan in 1982,” Koh said.
He added that Kee had first pioneered the promotion of multi-cultural festive occasions as tourism events in 1992, starting with Chap Goh Meh (15th Day of Chinese New Year) which later became the Chinese New Year Street Party, Pasar Ramadan, Deepavali “Festival of Lights”, Christmas Party and the Japanese Bon Odori.
“These festive events became so successful in attracting not only tourists but also local participation that they became annual national events sponsored by the Federal Government,” he said.
“Penang’s success in cultural tourism as promoted by Kee had also convinced the Federal Government to adopt the tagline, “Malaysia, Truly Asia” in 2000 for tourism promotion globally. This move propelled Malaysia to be one of the world’s top tourist destinations.
“Her energy, enthusiasm and endearing personality will be very missed, not only by her family and friends, but also by many in the tourism trade, charitable bodies and NGOs which she had supported and helped,” said Koh.