ON Friday March 23, we buried Mazlan Nordin. The Tan Sri died a day earlier at the University of Malaya Medical Centre. He was 86.
That meant not many of his contemporaries were left to pay him the last respect. About the only one present was journalist-turned-hotelier H.M.Shah, who is 90 and was Mazlan’s boss at the Utusan Melayu newspaper group.
Others were his colleagues like Zainuddin Maidin aka Zam and Kamarul Ariffin. Zam succeeded Mazlan as Utusan’s editor-in-chief and later chairman. Kamarul was also once the group’s chairman. Prime Minister Mohd Najib Abdul Razak and former Finance Minister, Daim Zainuddin (Tun) also paid their last respect.
I counted among Mazlan’s pupils and colleagues. Others included Rejal Arbee, Ahmad A Talib, Abdul Rahman Sulaiman, Safar Hashim and Azman Ujang.
I first met Mazlan in the second half of 1969 when I joined Bernama. He went on to become Bernama’s editor-in-chief and later chairman. He was a kind person and a thoughtful boss. Working under him made you feel equal.
He was an uncontroversial person, always able to steer clear of partisan politics despite helming some of the most politicised media organisations in the country.
His death is a lost to Malaysian journalism, most notably to bilingualism. He was the last of the bilingual writer of his generation, at ease with both the Malay language and English.
It is sad that fewer and fewer such journalists, writers and editors are being created these days. Most of the younger journalists, writers and editors are either conversant in the Malay language or English.
Not too long ago, I also lost another journalism teacher – Dame Christine Cole Catley. She died in her home country New Zealand last November at the age of 89.
To her too, I owe a debt of gratitude. She was one of my teachers at the Wellington Polytechnic in 1970/71 when I was there on the Colombo Plan Scholarship. I met her again some 20 years later when the class 1970/71 had a gathering in Wellington.
It was she who noticed that Hashim Makaruddin (now Tan Sri and Chairman of the Utusan Melayu Berhad) and I were a bit too advanced for the journalism course she was teaching. Intuitively, she sent us out to “work” with country newspapers and live with Kiwi families.
She sent us out to work with such newspapers in far-flung places in the beautiful country, which in more recent times was made famous worldwide as the Middle Earth in the movie version of Tolkin’s trilogy.
I worked for Levin Chronicle, where worm infestation of the season’s lambs was a big story and the Wanganui Herald, where I was introduced and fell in love with printer’s ink.
At midmorning every day, my news editor, the late George Abbot, made me wait at the printing presses for the first copies of the paper and rushed them to him and other senior staff.
It was while staying with the family of an Anglican priest in Levin that I said my first dinnertime grace. Only years later that “doa makan” became fashionable with Muslims in Malaysia.
It was these old time journalists and editors that gave the newsrooms their life and flavour and, not to mention, colourful expletive-filled language. Sadly, today’s newsrooms are stiff and sterile and lacking the robustness of a creative environment.
Mazlan and Dame Christine were among the people to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude. I also owe debt of gratitude to journalism luminaries like the late Abdul Samad Ismail (Tan Sri) and Lee Siew Yee (Tan Sri) and fellow journalists like late Mohd Nordin Sopiee, Rejal and Ahmad Sebi. Their guidance and camaraderie made what I am today. Alfatihah and thank you.