From playboy student-prince to statesman-extraordinaire

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Tunku had his most memorable moments at Inner Temple, recalls Tunku Sofiah Jewa.

The move by the Malaysia Inner Temple Alumni Association to honour my beloved uncle the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, is both nostalgic and touching.

Nostalgic because it brings back memories of the wonderful time I had had the privilege of being associated with him during the twilight years of his political life.

And touching to know that despite being no longer with us all these 18 or so years, my uncle continues to be loved and honoured, and on this occasion, by no other more special group of people than the alumni of his former alma mater — the Honourable Society of Inner Temple.

The portrait of my uncle that is about to be unveiled has been painted from one of my uncle’s favourite photographs, taken to commemorate his Call at Inner Temple in 1947.

I was hardly 7 years old then and had certainly not met him in person during the early years of my life.

But I recollect that it was a copy of the Inner Temple call photograph that adorned the home of one of his sisters, the late Tunku Baharum, that first brought to my attention that I had in fact an uncle who had just qualified as a lawyer in England and that his name was Ayah Tam — an affectionate term which simply means Black Uncle because of his dark complexion.

I am sure many former students of Inner Temple present here this evening would remember reading from some source or other of my Uncle’s student days in England, which began at Cambridge in 1922 when, at the age of 19, he entered that great University to read Law and History.

But it was through his association with Inner Temple, into which he gained admission as an external student whilst still at Cambridge, that my Uncle had some of the most memorable moments to remember of his student life.

My uncle had a great attraction for London, and Inner Temple proved to be a convenient passport whenever he wanted to attend social functions in that city during Cambridge term time.

Students at the Inns of Court, as we all know, need to comply with the dining regulations before they can be called to the English Bar.  Consequently, whenever he felt like it, my Uncle would apply for a pass to be absent from Cambridge for the night, giving as his reason, that he had to eat his dinners at the Inner Temple!

After graduating from Cambridge in 1925, my uncle returned home but was instructed by his elder brother, Tunku Ibrahim, the Kedah Regent, that he was too young for any state job.

And so, in 1926, he returned to London to resume his studies as a regular student at the Inner Temple.  But far from being regular, it took my uncle some 25 years before he was finally called to the Bar at Inner Temple in 1947 at the age of 44.

The road which my uncle followed, in the wake of his delayed Inner Temple success, was long and winding and it covered a period of almost another 44 years.

No one expected that the playboy student-prince — my uncle was earlier often portrayed as one — would some day change into a statesman extraordinaire.

By the time of his demise at the age of almost 88 on 6 December 1990, and to the pride of both his family and the nation, my uncle had brought about some landmark accomplishments to his credit:

•    In 1957, without shedding a single drop of blood, he helped our country obtain independence from Britian.

•    In 1961, he helped found ASA (Association of South-east Asia) the forerunner of the present day Asean.

•    In that same year, he successfully led the resistence against White South Africa’s apartheid policy at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference which forced South Africa out of the Com monwealth.

•    In 1963, he was instrumental in the establishment of Malaysia.

But he had, without doubts, his share of failures too, which resulted, according to some, in the May 13 tragedy in 1969.

My uncle’s successes and failures are of course there for posterity to judge.

However, I must add that despite the fact that he gave the best part of his post-Inner Temple days to the nation, my uncle had time for the family.

His daughter, Tunku Khatijah, was in Nottingham accompanying her husband Datuk Syed Hussein who was a student at the University during the anxious moments in our nation’s history when my uncle led several delegations to London to negotiate with British officials for our Independence.  On such occasions, he never failed during meeting breaks to meet her and the rest of the family.

His days at the nation’s helm was certainly numbered after the May 13 riots.  Nonetheless, on 10 July 1970, just before his retirement as Prime Minister of Malaysia in September of that year, my uncle found the time to accept my invitation to witness my own call to the Bar and that of my husband, Yaacob, at Lincoln’s Inn.

Upon the death of my uncle, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II wrote to my uncle’s widow, Tun Sharifah Rodziah, in undisguised fond terms, of her high regard for my uncle in the following words:

He enjoyed a unique position in Malaysia, and was held in the highest regard in Britain, the Commonwealth and the world at large.  He will be greatly missed.

Indeed, it is no secret that when he was alive, my uncle always had a special fondness for both Great Britain and the British people and the feeling, I dare say, had always been mutual.

And in more ways than one, the present effort by the Honourable Society of Inner Temple to honour the Tunku in the manner it is now doing epitomises such mutuality.

The above address was delivered at the ceremony to unveil the portrait of the Tunku on 11 June 2008.

Tunku Sofiah Jewa, a niece of the Tunku, was called to the English Bar at Lincolns Inn in 1970.  She was a member of the Law Faculty at the University of Malaya before entering private practice. 

Her two major works are Public International Law — a Malaysian Perspective and Malaysian Election Laws.

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