By Soo Ewe Jin
Peter Young devoted his whole life to the marginalised citizens of this country he calls his own.
HE was always in a batik shirt. Even at home. This tall Mat Salleh was a familiar sight in Section 5, Petaling Jaya, where he would take his two dogs out for a walk every evening. He was a simple man who lived a simple life.
Born in Cheltenham, England, on March 11 1926, he first set foot in this part of the world in 1954, when he arrived by ship in Singapore as a missionary, and immediately moved on to Perak to work in the new villages.
He loved the country so much he decided to stay. In 1958, he became a teacher at St Gabriel’s School after leaving the mission organisation. He taught for 10 years, and eventually became the headmaster.
But it was the setting up of Malaysian Care in 1979, with a small group of like-minded individuals, that would spark off the catalyst of change in how social work developed in this country.
His work with Malaysian Care, as its first executive director, and subsequently with United Voice and then Dignity and Services (two advocacy groups for people with learning disabilities) paved the way for many others to reach out to the marginalised.
He had already taken up Malaysian citizenship by then and though his work required him to interact with many people, he always shied away from any kind of publicity. He was a man of few words, but his deeds spoke volumes.
Many of his friends have felt that he, more than many others, deserved some form of award for his service to the community. He frowned upon such awards.
I remember how one time, despite his protestations, I was asked to submit his name for an award to recognise people in Malaysia doing humanitarian work.
The entry form required me to describe him in 100 words.
This was what I wrote: “Peter Young is more Malaysian than many Malaysians. He has devoted his whole life to the betterment of the marginalised citizens of this country he calls his own.
He does so in his quiet, humble way, mindful not to develop a cult personality to the greater cause he is pushing for.
“The paucity of articles about him in the mainstream press testifies to his approach in making sure the cause is always in the forefront. The attached material is a microcosm of how well regarded Peter is, the lives he has touched, and why he deserves the Lifetime Humanitarian award.”
Well, he did not win. And in a strange way, he was glad. I knew how uncomfortable he was just to attend the awards ceremony where the VIPs were out in full force.
I had already filed my article for this column when, early yesterday morning, I got a call that Peter had passed away, quietly, without any fanfare, as he would prefer.
I had been visiting him almost daily in this past week. He was frail but his wonderful smile, and last minute words of advice to me, were precious.
This is the man who always had time for me, no matter the situation. Peter and his dear wife Betty, who passed away five years ago, were the couple my wife and I turned to for good and Godly counsel.
He served the nation in his quiet, gentle and humble way. As a friend, and a mentor, he taught me to “live simply, so that others may simply live.”
He understood the value of speaking out for those who cannot speak out for themselves, but would gently remind me that our voice must never become more important than the cause.
He loved this country and the many friends of all races and religions, especially among the marginalised who called him Uncle Peter, are testimony to the legacy he has left behind. If he were alive, I know he would not approve of me writing about him.
I write this from the heart not to glorify him, but to put on the record that for a good 60 years, a man named Peter Young walked this land and touched many lives. Rest in peace, my friend.
First published in The Star