Harry Lau - An Eulogy

Harry Lau

Harry Lau was a pupil of the V.I. in the 1930s. He was a School Prefect and a keen student of history. He narrowly missed the coveted Queen's Scholarship of 1939, losing to Rodney Lam. As war clouds gathered in Malaya in 1941, Harry enlisted in the Red Cross and was sent to Singapore for duty. After the surrender of the British, Harry was sent home with others in a cattle car. He spent the Occupation years teaching English in the Davidson Road School with the V.I. School clerk and fellow Victorian, Richard Pavee. After the war he joined the V.I. in 1947 as a Normal trained teacher, teaching subjects like history and mathematics in the lower Forms until 1964. He remained an educationist the rest of his working career, serving as Headmaster and, finally, as an administrator in the Selangor Education Department. His devotion to the V.I. was unstinting over the years and clearly manifested in his many years of service in the VIOBA either as Committee Member, as Treasurer or as auditor.

Harry Lau passed away on January 31, 2002. John Doraisamy, Harry's colleague in the V.I. Staff Room for many years paid the following tribute to him at the St Mary's Church on February 2, 2002.

John Doraisamy adam Catherine Kher, Edward Lau and Helen, Natasha and members of Harry’s family, clergy members of St Mary’s Church, former Victorians, teachers and students, ladies and gentlemen.

We are gathered here to pay our last respects to Harry Lau. At the outset I would like to say that I am honoured to have been accorded the opportunity to say a few words about someone who was valued by so many for his sterling qualities.

Many here had known Harry over a long period of time. My own association and friendship with him began in July 1955 when I began my teaching career at the Victoria Institution.

Harry Lau 1939

Harry Lau received his early childhood education in the St Mary’s Kindergarten, and later at the Batu Road Primary School. From there he went to the Victoria Institution to continue his secondary education, which in that era culminated in the Cambridge School Certificate examination.

Harry Lau’s scholastic ability is best attested by the fact that he was one among only three candidates who were allowed to sit for a highly competitive examination, namely, the renowned Queen's Scholarship examination in the year 1939. I have seen a copy of the list of candidates and the marks they scored in that prestigious examination. Harry Lau was certainly among the high achievers but there was only one Queen Scholarship award for the entire Federated Malay States and one for the Straits Settlements. Harry just missed the much-coveted award, it is clear. The truth is that, in those days, there was a total dearth of facilities for higher education. Harry, like some others, may not have made it to the University but they were good teachers.

Harry Lau became a teacher at the Victoria Institution after the Second World War. Apart from his classroom teaching he was in charge of the school book shop. Members of this congregation who are his former students or teachers of the V.I. have cordial memories of Harry. In my years there Harry’s book shop was a veritable second teachers room. We sat around the large table listening to Harry’s stories about the old school and of numerous colourful personalities. There was also a small group who would adjourn with Harry for lunch on Friday afternoon to some restaurant or other. The man was gregarious by nature and he had a ready smile and a good sense of humour.

I have mentioned the book shop but Harry was also in charge of school accounts, a very responsible position, indeed, in a big school like the V.I. We admired his flair for remembering so much details connected with fees and other levies. You could hand him a wad of notes in the corridor or the staff room and he would jot down the relevant details on a piece of paper, for further formal processing later on in his book shop.

Harry Lau with class

Harry Lau was a strict teacher. He was the old school type – he may have lost his temper with students but behind that demeanour of admonition, there was always concern for his students. As a friend he was loyal and I know that he never failed to assist anyone who approached him in times of adversity. He could be critical and utterly frank but again that arose out of concern that a fellow teacher should not give cause for any unkind talk by outsiders.

The V.I. meant a great deal to him. He spent much time there even after school hours. The V.I.O.B.A., too, meant a lot to him. The Annual Athletics were a great tradition in the school and Harry was always in charge of the bar, serving drinks to old students and staff alike. It was also a tradition that he ring the watch bell of the HMS Malaya which hung and still hangs outside the staff room.

Harry Lau and Ng Seo Buck

Many having served as teachers were promoted to be principals of schools. Harry, too, left to take charge of a very large secondary school, namely Sekolah Menengah Cheras. Later he was transferred to the State Education office and became an organiser of secondary schools, a fitting recognition of his administrative abilities. In 1975, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong conferred on Harry the civic award of AMN.

I must also mention that, for many years, Harry was the Treasurer of the Selangor State Schools Sports Council. He managed the finances in a truly efficient and exemplary manner.

Harry Lau VIOBA 1960

After his retirement he continued his association with the V.I.O.B.A. It is sad to recall that he had to cope with ill-health. But in spite of that Harry attended the centenary festivities of the old School in the year 1993. There was always an informal group of former students and teachers who maintained contact with him.

In his sunset years, Harry was fortunate to be always sustained and well-looked after by his devoted wife, Catherine Kher. It was a long illness but was bravely borne - borne with fortitude. He passed away peacefully at 8:30 a.m. on 31 January. I am sure I express the feelings of this congregation when I say to Catherine, Edward Lau, Natasha and the grand-children Kenneth, Terrence and Jessica, that "you are not alone in your moments of sorrow." The late Harry Lau touched the lives of all of us here in different ways. We will always recall and cherish many memories of a fine individual.

May I end with some verses from Kahlil Gibran’s meditations in The Prophet:

"For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depths of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.

"For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

"Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance."

I thank you all for your courteous attention.

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Created on 20 February 2002.
Last update on 23 November 2003.

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