Saturday October 6, 2007

Tribute to the Ideal Man


IT was in a nondescript shop lot located at a lesser-known part of Petaling Jaya that the late Datuk Dr Sam Abraham used to conduct the board meetings of a little-known charity organisation known as Dignity and Services.

The directors sit on simple chairs and discuss issues affecting people with learning disabilities. As the board chairman, Dr Abraham's passion to fight for the rights of these people was infectious.

Sam, as he was fondly called, reminded the directors that the “cause was bigger than the sum total of us small individuals”.

Sam, who passed away on Oct 2 at the age of 78 after a short battle with leukaemia, was a strong believer that anyone – and everyone – can make a difference.

For people with learning disabilities, along with their parents and caregivers, Sam’s crusade through Dignity and Services, which he founded with Rev Peter Young and Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria in 1991, was like a light at the end of the tunnel.

At every opportunity, Sam reminded the public - and many public officials from ministers to bureaucrats - that people with intellectual disabilities enjoy a fundamental right to life, liberty and security.

Be it education, mobility, public awareness or employment opportunities, Sam kept these issues in the public domain.

He would sometimes lament about how other charities, with the benefit of VVIPs on their boards, seem to have little difficulty raising funds and getting their message heard.

But he never lost hope. He was determined that there was no need to pull strings or cables because ultimately, if it is a cause worth fighting for, the people would turn around. He wanted people to support the cause because they were sincere about it and not because they wanted some mileage out of it.

One of his happiest moments must be when United Voice, which began as a group within Dignity and Services, branched off on its own, to become the country’s first self-advocacy group for people with learning disabilities.

Unforgettable: Datuk Dr Sam Abraham with United Voice president Johari Jamali. As chairman of Dignity and Services, Dr Abraham worked hard to promote the cause of people with learning disabilities and was proud to see United Voice stand on its own.

For Sam, it was truly uplifting that these young people were ready to handle matters on their own, from writing their own cheques to representing themselves at important meetings and dialogues.

Up close and personal, Sam’s gregarious nature was not lost on those who interacted with him. For the people with learning disabilities, he was a father figure, someone they would instinctively go up to hug each time he arrived.

To family and friends, his sense of humour was legendary, as was his treasure trove of jokes.

Although Sam’s primary concern in recent years was with the learning disabled, he had also helped out many causes. He was indeed a man with a big heart who loved and served the country well.

A paediatrician by training, Sam served in the government service for nearly 30 years before going into private practice. At his clinic, he often provided free service to the poor and marginalized people.

Sam recognised the nation’s diversity well and often reminded people that there are many issues that simply cannot be looked at along ethnic or religious lines.

I remember those days at the shop lot well because, there we were, all four of us, from four very distinct ethnic and religious groups. All working for the same cause.

At his funeral, the St Mary’s Cathedral just beside Dataran Merdeka was filled to the brim, with many latecomers having to stand outside. People of all creed and colour, including many Malay tudung-clad women, were present.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, who read the eulogy, described Sam as the ideal man who served God, country and people with love and compassion. Indeed, he truly served with quiet dignity at all times.

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Created on 28 February 2004.
Last update on 12 April 2018.

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