RELATIVES and friends began trickling into the Bangsar home of ISIS chairman and CEO Tan Sri Dr Noordin Sopiee just hours after his father Datuk Mohamed Sopiee Sheikh Ibrahim passed away on Monday night.
Mohamed Sopiee, 78, had suffered a crippling stroke a week ago. He was admitted to the Assunta Hospital where he developed lung complications before finally succumbing at 9.30pm, surrounded by those near and dear to him.
He was buried on Tuesday just before zohor prayers at the Bukit Kiara Muslim cemetery and the substantial turn-out of people who came to pay their final respects was an apt reminder of just how multi-faceted a man Mohamed Sopiee had been in his lifetime.
There were, besides his relatives and friends, well-known figures from the Malaysian civil and diplomatic service, media and politics. Mohamed Sopiee was one of those Malaysians who led a varied and fulfilling life. He had been a civil servant, journalist, politician, diplomat and more.
Acting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was also there. The late Mohamed Sopiee and Abdullah shared a common reference point – the elder man was Abdullah’s predecessor as Kepala Batas MP.
Abdullah acknowledged this in a brief tribute: “In the mid-1970s, when there was a need for generational change, Sopiee was one of the first to volunteer to make way for me because I was a local chap in Kepala Batas. It was very nice of him and he wished me well and helped me.”
Malaysia, Abdullah added, has lost a good son.
Mohamed Sopiee maintained a low profile for much of the last decade particularly after being diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s the last few years.
But for a number of years after his retirement, he remained an active member of society. He wrote a well-read column first for the Sunday Star and then, Watan. He was often sought out for his views as president of the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers.
His journalistic career had begun much earlier, with the Utusan Melayu back in the 1950s. Datuk H.M. Shah, then Utusan Melayu director and now owner of the Shah Village Motel, interviewed him for the job.
“This Chinese-looking man turned up for the interview. I asked him where Sopiee was and he insisted he was Sopiee and I said: “Don’t fool around here, where is Sopiee?’” said Shah laughing loudly at the memory.
Shah, now 82, went on to become the editor-in-chief and managing director of Utusan Melayu and Mohamed Sopiee to even bigger things. From journalism, he went on to become director of Information Services, MP for Kepala Batas and High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
He touched the lives of many in his own way. Publisher and former newspaper editor Datuk A. Kadir Jasin described him as “an exceptional Malay thinker” in his time.
“He was one of those early figures who went beyond the Malay bread and butter issues, beyond the Malay race, and yet remained rooted in the community,” said Kadir.
Like many young men of his era, he was not immune to the siren appeal of socialism and was a founder of the Pan-Malayan Labour Party, but later on helped to found Umno.
The other appealing side to him was his warm, gregarious and garrulous personality. He loved to hold court, delighted in a good conversation and, as former RTM director general Datuk Dol Ramli recalled, “he could out-argue you on any subject because he was just so well-informed.”
He could also be incredibly charming and chivalrous to the ladies and spoke half a dozen languages – Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Hokkien and Laotian besides Malay and English.
He also loved his pipe and was still puffing away at it when the stroke hit him last week.
He was notoriously honest and said Shah: “We used to meet up at my hotel for coffee and let me tell you, he still spoke his mind about politics.”
One reason why he lasted but a term in politics was his independent spirit. Then Prime Minister Tun Razak Hussein was extremely cross with him when he voted against the Universities and University Colleges Bill in defiance of the Barisan Nasional whip.
Asked which career-role his father enjoyed most, Dr Noordin said without hesitation: “He enjoyed every single one of them.”
The reason, some suggested, was because he was good at almost everything he did.
Mohamed Sopiee was many things to many people but ultimately it was his scrupulous honesty and his endeavour to speak his mind that his friends appreciated most.
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