An Interview with
Dato' Dr. Ronald S. McCoy

Dr R. S. McCoy

Dato' Dr. Ronald S. McCoy received his primary education at the Pasar Road School, Kuala Lumpur, and continued his secondary education at the Victoria Institution in the late nineteen forties. He was an extraordinary all-rounder exemplifying the best of Victorian ideals - a scholar, a sportsman and a gentleman. He represented the V.I. in cricket, hockey and football (he played in the inaugural Laksamana Cup match against the Malay College in 1949). He was also Captain of Yap Kwan Seng House. On the scholastic front he topped the School Certificate class of his time, becoming the Rodger Scholar of 1948. He was also a School Prefect and was made the V.I. School Captain in 1949.

He was among the first group of students to be admitted to the University of Malaya in Singapore when it was founded in 1949. After his graduation, he worked at the General Hospital, Kuala Lumpur, for ten years, during which time he obtained his Membership of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London in 1963. In 1965, he joined Assunta Hospital as a consultant and nine years later continued his work at Pantai Medical Centre, Kuala Lumpur. He retired from practice in February 1996.

Cutting the Prefects Anniversary Cake

Dato' McCoy is married to Datin Susheila and has two sons, Stephen and David, and a daughter, Ruth. He is a life member of the Malaysian Medical Association and was its President in 1995. Mindful of his V.I. roots, he maintains his link with present Victorians through the VIOBA Foundation, donating generously to its pool of scholarships. In return, the 1998 Prefects made him their Guest of Honour when the 75th anniversary of the founding of the V.I. Prefects Board was celebrated by those Prefects and many past Prefects at the Dynasty Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

Spreading his horizons much further, he is also a tireless worker for the well being of future generations of the world at large. He is a founder member of Malaysian Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (MPPNW) and has been its chairman since 1989. He is Co-President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), a Federation of 83 national physicians' groups, representing 200,000 doctors worldwide and dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Dato' McCoy is currently a member of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, a group of seventeen distinguished and eminent persons from 12 countries appointed by former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating to propose practical measures for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The following interview was recorded on May 31, 2000.

was born in Seremban on May 5, 1930. My father, Stephen James, was a draftsman in the Telecoms. We lived in the government quarters at 747, Pasar Road, Kuala Lumpur. Before I was of school age my mother was keen that I did not lose time and taught me at home so that by the time I went to the Pasar Road School in January 1937, I could already read, write and spell. My teacher in Primary 1 was Tan Pan Tai. The school decided after three months to have an examination and promoted the first six boys, including myself, to the next class. We went on to Primary 2 under Mrs Alice Soars, who lived across the road from us. Of my classmates I remember Lim Leong Sing, son of Lim Kah, a wealthy tin miner, Foo Jackson and S. Ramachandra.

The School was built on two levels; up to Standard 3 we were on the lower level and on the upper level were Standards 4 and 5. So, psychologically it was a progression of going up as the last classroom was on the highest level overlooking the playing field.

From Primary 2, I went to Standard 1 in 1938 - the form master then was Lim Peng Wah. In Standard 3, I remember it was Yoong Khee Meng - an Old Victorian; his son was Yoong Kim Poon. Now Standard 5 was the end of Primary School and as the PRS was a feeder school to the V.I., we had all known that we would eventually end up in the V.I. by 1943. Unfortunately, when I was in Standard 4, war broke out in Malaya at the end of 1941. So a lot of us, including myself, were very disappointed that we didn't get to go to the V.I.

During the Japanese occupation I went back to school once things settled down. The PRS was used as a military base, and so they opened a school in Cheras - Te Sin School - which I and some of my old PRS classmates attended. The medium of instruction was Japanese so even the teachers had to learn Japanese first in order to teach us.

During the war my father had been part of the Federated Malay States Voluntary Forces and he had been with the British forces in Singapore when it fell on February 15, 1942. When my father and other FMSVF personnel first arrived in Singapore, the British Commander had told them to take off their uniforms and become civilians again. We had not known what had happened to him then, as he only came back to us in K.L. about 3 months later. He resumed work at Telecoms and then for some reason the authorities moved the Telecoms to Singapore. So we all moved down south in 1943, where I joined St. Anthony's School (again the instruction was in Japanese). But we had good local teachers there who took us in English. I remember one Brother Christopher, a Chinese, who taught me.

After two years, my father decided to leave government service - he had a row with one of the Japanese. He returned to K.L with us and worked at the old Federated Engineers which had been renamed Tokyo Shibaru Denki Karushiki Kaisha. I remember this as TSDKK! My father's position was that of a draftsman designing marine engines and I was helping him as an apprentice as schools were no longer functioning by then - they went to a certain stage and no further. I think I was at the equivalent of Standard 6 or 7 then.

As rice was rationed during the Occupation, the benefit of working at TSDKK was that each employee was given one gantang of rice and as a result, both my father and I were able to bring home two gantangs of rice each month. We were also given two packets of Koa cigarettes which we flogged on the black market, since we didn't smoke.

During the time I worked at the TSDKK, my father always said to me, "I am not a professional, but you must become a professional. It is important that you do this when you grow up." We had heard that the father of V. Thuraisingam (now a cardiologist in Penang) gave tuition and we decided that I should continue learning English and mathematics together with Thuraisingam. I went for tuition class straight after work on my bicycle.

When the war ended in 1945, I went to register at Pasar Road School (we were living at 1189, Pasar Road at that time). I finally got promoted to the V.I. - 2 years late! I was put back to Standard 6 as a V.I. pupil but the classes were conducted at Maxwell School for one term. I remember teachers like Chan Fu Ho, a graduate from Raffles College just before the war, and Fred Arulanandom who ended up as a judge eventually. Mr Vallipuram was then the Headmaster. Then, in October 1946, we all finally went back to the V.I. premises proper.

Mr F. Daniel

There was an assembly and Mr F. Daniel was there as headmaster. He was in his famous bush jacket, shorts, long stockings and sandals. He believed in ventilation in the tropics. He was a very practical man, full of common sense. We had never had a headmaster like Daniel. He really had to rebuild the school and, fortunately for us, he had been the pre-war science master. While he was interned at Changi, his wife had been interned in Sumatra and she had died before the war ended. It was a bitter blow to him and he was a very, very lonely man after the war. He knew the school and had a love for the school. For Daniel, the V.I. was really his life.

Mr Ganga Singh

Standard 7 in 1946 was the beginning for me at the V.I. I think Foo Chong Choon was the Form Master and I had 2 terms in Standard 7. In those days we had 4 classes for each Standard and I was in 7A. From there I went to 8A in 1947. The 8A Form Master was the inimitable, irreplaceable - Ganga Singh! He was an Old Boy and a strict disciplinarian, keen on form, how you behaved, how you dressed and how you spoke. He was a very good teacher.

One of the things we had to do was to keep the school clean and tidy. This was Daniel's dictum - no litter. Every Assembly on Mondays, the classroom that looked cleanest, that had the best polished brass hinges, was awarded a little plaque. During my one year in 8A, invariably, every Monday, Standard 8A won the plaque (our rival was Senior 4). And of course it was Ganga Singh who made sure that 8A was right up there!

Daniel was very particular about keeping the school clean. Sometimes he would lecture us during assembly on just litter. He lived on the premises in the end room on the first floor of the science wing. I went into his room only once. He had his bed, books and desk there. I guess he must have bathed downstairs. He was a Spartan kind of person and a very private person.

From 8A we went to Senior 1 (Form 5 today) in 1948 and we had F. H. Jones as Form Master and, after a term, we had G.F. Jackson. Jackson had an M.A. in English and he was keen on theatricals and took part in one or two local plays. The school song was probably Jackson's brainchild but we were just told by Daniel that we would have a school song. We were given all the words on a sheet of paper or were asked to copy them down and then we were taught the music. The music was played by Richard Pavee, the school clerk who was also an Old Boy.

Cricket XI 1948

There were no Speech Days then, but there were concerts and plays. During Jackson's time, an excerpt of The Merchant of Venice was staged - a sparse production and not very elaborate. I remember Nadeswaran, who was a great Shylock; John Davies was Portia and I was the Duke - small part. I didn't want to be part of that as I was not very theatrical but Jackson twisted my arm. Nadeswaran later went on to Singapore to do a B.A. and later became part of the Trade Union movement.

I remember that after the HMS Malaya Bell was presented to the school in 1947, Daniel decided that it was to be used to start the school day. So the School Captain, who had to ring the bell, could not be late! As School Captain, I was never late and neither was my predecessor, Cecil Cooke. The Bell was also used to summon the school for an assembly or in the event of an emergency.

In 1949 Daniel decided to plant yellow flame trees in front of the school. I planted two trees, one as School Captain and one as School Cricket/Hocket Captain. (The trees are still standing today.) Prefects 1949 Daniel was very appreciative of people who worked with their hands and were good artisans. We had a carpenter in the school - Loh Wing - who had his workshop near the bicycle shed. He was a very good carpenter and the wooden panels - the Honour Boards - in the School Hall were all made by him.

Daniel was a great influence on my life. Among the things I learned from him was self-discipline. He believed, and I continue to believe, that discipline which is imposed from outside doesn't always work. Look at the laws which are broken all the time in countries all over the world! Daniel and I used to chat now and then. He would call me into the office if there was something he wanted to talk over with me or to tell me about the school that should be done or corrected. This was not often but every now and then. All this would come across to me, of course, by his life and the way he lived. Like litter - if there was no bin, you would put it in your pocket and he would talk about being efficient, about being reliable and about not only working hard but working quickly as well because there is so little time in twenty-four hours.

Laxamana Cup 1949

Every Monday Assembly would almost be like a moral lesson for the school. Daniel would pick up on different subjects and he would expound on them. It was very good, I think, as the tone of the school was changed for the better as a result. Daniel would turn over in his grave today if he saw the antics in soccer matches. He believed that if you scored a goal, you just walked back without any demonstration of joy; there should be no backslapping and no hugging. In fact this happened at one soccer match and the next Monday morning we had a lecture on that! And when Daniel was cross about something, his upper lip would quiver and twitch and as he had a moustache, you could see the twitching of his moustache! He was a great influence on my life. It's a pity that we don't have Headmasters like that today.

Ganga Singh was the other who had a great influence. He was very much in the same mould - you worked, you always did your best. Standard 8A had to be the cleanest classroom in the school and, therefore, you had to win that plaque. Of course, now and then, you slipped up and then you got a tongue lashing from him. I was YKS House Captain and Ganga Singh was the House Master, so I saw a lot of him. He lived to a ripe old age. I saw him in Johor Bahru a few years before he passed away.

There is now a scholarship in the V.I. which I created in Ganga Singh's name. S. V. J. Ponniah, my history teacher, was also a very memorable teacher. Foo Chong Choon also taught me at PRS and was the H M when I was a cub. So there are three scholarships created by me in their names administered by the VIOBA Foundation.

When you have a Headmaster at a school for only one year, you lose out because you don't have continuity. It's better to have Old Boys as teachers for whom the school has greater meaning and, therefore, they would put much more into the school and keep up the traditions and all the other things that go into making a good or excellent school.

The V. I. was the top school in my time. We were good at hockey and cricket. H M de Souza was the hockey master and he was also in charge of the Selangor Hockey Association. Hockey XI 1948 I remember having a state trial in 1948 but did not succeed. Our athletics was good with athletes like Lim Hock Han and others - no one could even touch them. There was a system whereby every boy who ran a mile won a point for his house. So you can imagine what happened in YKS House with Ganga Singh as the House Master! Sports Day was a big annual event. The Sultanah of Selangor would always come to give away the prizes. The dictum was - you must compete. If you win, fine, but you must compete. If you lose, lose gracefully. Of course, these are platitudes now.

I took my School Certificate exam at the end of 1948. There was no Form Six in those days. Daniel asked me if I could stay on at the V.I. until October 1949 when the University opened. Jackson organised a sort of Sixth Form. There was no matriculation class like the pre-war days. So I stayed on at the V.I. in January 1949 with a few others and we did history, literature and a bit of science.

Daniel was leaving the V.I. that year because he had reached retirement age. He had known that I had gained admission to the Faculty of Medicine in Singapore - the interviews had taken place and the results were known. Daniel suggested that if I would like to be introduced to medicine before I went to Singapore he could arrange for me to meet a friend of his who was the senior bacteriologist at the Institute of Medical Research, one Dr. Green. At that time I had felt that the end of Daniel's tenure was also the end of my schooling. So I said O.K. We left the V. I. almost at the same time, myself on May 3, Daniel on May 20, 1949.

So from school I went to the IMR where Green taught me to use a microscope, how to plate a culture on a culture medium. Daniel left Malaya shortly from Port Swettenham and for some reason I was not there, which was sad. I remember that before Daniel left the V.I. I had felt that we ought to give him a souvenir of the school - an album of photographs. As George Lee was the only one in the class who had a camera (cameras were very rare in those days), George and I went around the school over several days snapping parts of the V. I. building and various aspects of school activities - the tuck shop, the cricket pitch, net practice, the pavilion.

When I was a medical student in Singapore, I had decided to be a surgeon. From University I returned to K.L. and worked at the G. H. My first house job was with David Llewellyn-Jones who was an O. and G. He was a wonderful person as a doctor and as a teacher. He had wonderful attitudes in medicine and was full of infectious enthusiasm. Those six months with him made me decide to be an O. and G. As it has a certain amount of surgery in it, it was a good compromise and choice. This happens to a lot of doctors - you specialize because you work with someone who makes an impression on you!

I got two years study leave from the G. H. to do a post-grad degree in U K and went to Bradford Infirmary in Oxford where I worked with two very wonderful New Zealanders - John Stallworthy and Bill Hawksworth. Stallworthy, chief of the unit, like Llewellyn-Jones, had a great influence on my professional life. In medicine, apart from the competence that you learn - which, after all, is an apprenticeship - it is important for young doctors to learn the right attitudes to their specialty and to their patients. You hear so much about the experiences of patients where doctors don't seem to care or don't communicate with their patients. Ethics is another thing. This is not something you can really learn from books but from your superiors and your peers who, by example, teach you all these.

After two years I got my MRCOG and worked with Llewellyn-Jones as his assistant registrar. With independence, he was going to be Malayanised, and I had planned to continue in government service until I retired. However, at that time the G. H. was in pretty bad shape and I was very critical about the administration. When I was a houseman I had became secretary of the Medical Alumni Association (there was no MMA then) and the chairman was Old Victorian Tan Chee Khoon. With his encouragement, I wrote an exposé of the G. H. which came out in the Malay Mail. As a result I was persona non grata with the Ministry of Health! But as long as Llewellyn-Jones was there I was protected but when he was about to leave they said they were going to transfer me out of K.L. I was very cross about this and I resigned. At that time there were very few specialists in private practice and so I joined Assunta Hospital and worked there till we built Pantai Medical Centre. I worked there until I retired finally in 1996.

McCoy today

It was in 1986 when I first heard of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War which was formed in 1980. Its objectives were rather simple - doctors cannot function as doctors when there is a nuclear war. We had discovered that in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, when hospitals and medical supplies were destroyed and doctors and nurses were killed.

There is a very good medical principle, that is, preventive medicine. So the only way to prevent nuclear war is by eliminating and abolishing nuclear weapons. I remember reading about Hiroshima in 1945. All we were told then was that this was a very destructive bomb which demolished and devastated a city in a few seconds. Of course, it had brought an end to the war. At that time it was a great relief that the war was over and the Japanese Occupation had come to an end.

But two or three years later, when I began to read about the devastation of the atomic bomb, the fact that you were able to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians in order to end the war seemed to me to be unacceptable. I remember saying this in Tokyo where I had a meeting in 1955. I had gone to the Woods seminar and had first seen Hiroshima then. There were still areas of devastation at that time, and they are present even today. I had felt then that there was little that I could do as a doctor in a small country in Malaysia.

So when I heard about the IPPNW I decided to join it. I also joined the UK affiliate as an overseas member. They kept giving me literature and publications on the different issues of nuclear weapons. I thought, why don't we form one here in Malaysia? The following year, in 1987, at an MMA AGM in Malacca at breakfast, I spoke to the group about this and sent a paper around and got 32 signatories and so formed the Malaysian affiliate - MPPNW.

The IPPNW is a federation of national groups. There are nine regions - Malaysia is part of the Asia Pacific Region - and each region has councillors, one from each affiliate. I became the Malaysian councillor. After a couple of years in the Asia Pacific Region I was elected as Vice-President and, after another two years, as co-president of the IPPNW.

People listen to us because we have credibility as physicians. We do a lot of research and publish a lot of books and tracts. We are accredited to the U. N. and have access to meetings like the recent Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which went on for a month in New York. We have access to the various delegations and to the disarmament people. Of the five nuclear weapon states, the Western states - the U. S., the U. K. and the French - are very much in favour of the possession of nuclear weapons. Of the five, China, in fact, is the most amenable to nuclear disarmament.

We keep working. It's a long struggle. We are making very little progress, but progress, nevertheless. We just have to keep chipping away; the cracks are beginning to appear now. Maybe not in my lifetime, but maybe in the next generation, we will get down to zero nuclear weapons with a bit of luck. That's what we must try and do…..

See also

Dato' Dr Ronald McCoy - 2004 Victorian of the Year 2004

VI The V.I. Web Page

Created on 30 November 2001.
Last update on 19 February 2008.

Interviewer: Chung Chee Min