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Monday August 31, 2009

Heroes of 1Malaysia

We call them our modern-day wira: remarkable individuals who have been able to transcend colour and creed to become household names and are embraced by all their fellow citizens.

Yasmin Ahmad

WE begin with the obvious. Her unexpected demise last month shocked and saddened a nation. Suddenly, we all realised that we had lost a national treasure.

In eulogy after eulogy, Yasmin Ahmad (pic) was seen as the rare person who wholeheartedly embraced and promoted the 1Malaysia concept, even if she didn’t call it that.

Yasmin Ahmad

Yasmin began attracting attention with her award-winning Petronas commercials that spoke about racial harmony and acceptance in simple yet profound ways.

She followed up with full-length films and the fact that they were watched, understood and appreciated by people from all races, culture and belief speaks volumes.

Yasmin died on July 25 at the age of 51 after suffering a stroke and brain haemorrhage. Soon after her death, she was named best director for her film Talentime at the 22nd Malaysian Film Festival (MFF).

Her advertisements (broadcast and print) and films have won numerous awards, including Mukhsin at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival.

Her Petronas TV ad for Merdeka 2007, “Tan Hong Ming In Love” won 13 awards worldwide, including two gold and one bronze at the prestigious 2008 ANDY awards in New York.

During her career, Yasmin made about 50 television commercials and six feature-length films.

Datuk Mohamed Nor Khalid (Lat)

Mention Mohamed Nor Khalid and many people will go “Who?”

Better known as Lat, the region’s much-loved cartoon maestro has put a smile on thousands with his funny and candid takes on the daily lives of Malaysia’s various races and cultures.

Clockwise from top left: Lat, Datuk Michael Chong, Alleycats (l-r) Nazaruddin, Jimmy Loh, David Arumugam, Gerard A, Mike Pravin and David John aka Boy (inset) Loga Arumugam, Datuk Tony Fernandes, Datuk Nicol David and Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood.

Through his sketches, Lat, 58, teaches us to laugh at ourselves and to embrace each other’s differences.

The popularity of his work is proof that humour breaks down barriers.

On Aug 17, he launched his 1Malaysia exhibition, organised by the New Straits Times Press (M) Berhad (NSTP) in collaboration with Bandar Raya Developments Berhad (BRDB).

Titled “Lat’s 1Malaysia Exhibition”, it displays 60 of Lat’s original sketches, dating from 1974 up to now. The exhibition at Bangsar Shopping Centre, Kuala Lumpur, ends today.

Born in 1951, Lat first started contributing comic strips called “Keluarga Si Mamat” to Berita Minggu back in the 1960s. In 1974, he began drawing the series of cartoons called “Scenes of Malaysian Life” for the NST.

In 1978, his comic book Kampung Boy was published. The bestseller is based on his own experience growing up in a village in Perak and has been translated into nine languages including French, German, Japanese and Portuguese.

An animated series was aired on Astro in 1998 and won an award at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in Annecy, France, in 1999.

Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood

No act is more humbling than giving humanitarian aid and Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood has spearheaded it for a decade.

The inaugural president and founder of Mercy Malaysia (or Malaysian Medical Relief Society) set up the medical organisation with like-minded people in June 1999.

Mercy Malaysia provides humanitarian aid in crisis and non-crisis situations.

It joins Malaysians from all walks of life who have the common aim of serving people in need, irrespective of race, religion, culture or boundary.

Since its inception, Mercy Malaysia has helped hundreds of thousands of victims of natural and complex humanitarian disasters in places like Kosova, India, Turkey, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Iran, Palestine and Sudan.

Dr Jemilah, 50, has led most of these missions at home and abroad.

In 2006, she was conferred the highest honour by the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel at Morehouse College, United States.

She was the first Malaysian to win the Gandhi, King, Ikeda Award, created to celebrate human rights and non-violence.

For her contribution to society, she was also awarded the Dato’ Paduka Mahkota Perak (DPMP) and the national award of Panglima Jasa Negara (PJN) which carries the title Datuk in 2002.

In August 2003, she received the First East Asia Women’s Peace Award (Humanitarian Service category) in Manila. Fellow recipients of the prestigious award include former Philippine President Corazon Aquino and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Dr Jemilah was recently appointed Chief of the Humanitarian Response Branch, United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) in New York. Mercy vice-president Dr Ahmad Faizal Perdaus takes over her position as head.

Datuk Nicol David

When it comes to sport, race and creed take a backseat because it’s all about talent and performance. And our squash queen Datuk Nicole David has proven time and time again she has both in spades.

Her string of achievements has put her right at the top of her game and made her country very proud. On the squash court, all Malaysians can swell with pride because one of ours reigns supreme.

Nicol, who was born in Penang on Aug 26, 1983, began her formal training at the tender age of eight. By 15, she had become the youngest player to win the world’s Woman Junior Championship.

When she was 22, Nicol became the youngest world champion after winning the women’s World Open in Hong Kong.

At 23, she was named the world’s number one woman squash player and was the first Asian woman to rank as such.

The 26-year-old three-time world champion showed great tenacity by also winning the Asian championship five times.

In 2002, Nicol was named Malaysia’s first goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Last December, Nicol won the inaugural Asian Sportswoman of the Year Award, beating 100 athletes from 25 sporting bodies and national Olympic Councils from 15 countries.

In 2008, Nicol was conferred the Order of Merit by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin.

Nicol also became Malaysia’s youngest Datuk when was awarded the Darjah Setia Pangkuan Negeri (DSPN) from her home state of Penang in 2008.

Through it all, Nicole further cemented her reputation and fine standing with exemplary behaviour on and off court. She has not been tainted by any scandal involving drugs or wild partying ways. If there is a young person who is an excellent role model to her peers, she is it.

Datuk Tony Fernandes

The Asian region’s icon of cheap air travel is undeniably Datuk Tony Fernandes, group chief executive officer of Air Asia Bhd.

Established in 2001, the budget airline started by offering local and Asean destinations, making a reality of its catchy slogan: Now Everyone Can Fly.

Fernandes quickly won admirers for his hands-on approach: he would go down to the ground to deal directly with passengers and even hauled luggage. His face (and his signature red AirAsia baseball cap) is now one of the most recognised in the country.

Then, via AirAsia X, a long-haul low-cost carrier introduced in 2007 that is 16% owned by Air Asia Bhd, destinations available expanded to Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Taipei and London.

Currently, Air Asia Bhd has a fleet of over 80 aircraft comprising largely Airbus planes and flies to over 60 domestic and international destinations. It has flown over 55 million guests and created a revolution in air travel.

AirAsia also launched its low-cost courier service called Redbox this year.

In March, Fernandes, 45, was bestowed the Laureate Award (commercial air transport category) at the 52nd annual Aviation Week Laureate Awards held in Washington DC.


Generations of fans have grooved to their music and hummed to the catchy tunes.

Alleycats, one of the most popular local bands in the country, has entertained Malaysians since it was formed in 1969 in Penang.

They crossed all racial divides with their hit songs in Bahasa Malaysia. In addition, they can just as easily belt out songs in English, Chinese or Tamil.

The band’s mega hit was Hingga Akhir Nanti from its fourth album, Alleycats, released in 1981.

Alleycats has performed in places like London and Denmark and has a fan base that includes Hong Kong, Brunei, Indonesia and Singapore.

One of the lead singers, Loganathan Arumugam, or Loga as he was fondly called, died from lung cancer in 2007 at age 54.

However, the band lives on with Datuk David Arumugam (lead vocal), Nazaruddin Thamby Chik (lead guitarist), Jimmy Loh (bass guitarist), new member Gerard Abisheganaden (vocal and percussion), Mike Pravin (keyboard) and David John aka Boy (drum).

Although the afro hairstyles have been toned down over the years, the band’s popularity has not.

In 2006, it released its 27th album Rasa and in the same year, Alleycats got listed in the Malaysia Book of Records for being the longest surviving pop band of 37 years.

Datuk Michael Chong

From resolving ah long (loan shark) problems to aiding young women being blackmailed by boyfriends to raising funds for patients in need of operations to locating missing persons, Datuk Michael Chong – Malaysia’s Mr Fix-It – has done it all.

Chong, 61, has been the MCA Public Services and Complaints Department chief for over 20 years. Although he represents a race-based political party, he has helped resolve problems faced by people of different ethnic groups.

For example, actress Wan Nor Azlin sought his help when her house and car were splashed with paint by loan sharks, who were looking for her husband who had failed to repay debts.

Chong also helped the parents of eight-year-old leukaemia patient Sarvinder Singh to raise the funds needed for a stem cell transplant by making a appeal for public donations.

Chong was appointed adviser and special officer to Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein in April. Centre for Public Policy Studies chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam lauded the appointment as a concrete expressions of 1Malaysia.