Another oldtimer of the Straits Times/New Straits Times has passed on. Michael Foong, chief sub-editor of the paper in the mid to late 1970s, died of cancer last night in Sydney, where he has lived after leaving the Times in 1979. He was 74.
Michael began as a reporter with the Ipoh bureau and was later London correspondent. A favourite pasttime was to drop by at Billingsgate fish market and obtain fish heads for free and a Saturday night curry night with other Malaysians. “Those ang mohs just throw them away,” he would recall in later years, shaking his head in rueful wonder.
After leaving the Times, Michael worked for the Sydney Morning Herald with a small band of other former NST staff, and made up a regular foursome at the golf course. He was also with The Australian, and the Singapore Straits Times, both in Singapore and in their offshore desk in Sydney, headed by Tony Khoo Teng Guan.
Lean, tall and gangly, always with a ready smile and a quip, Michael adapted quickly from being a reporter to the demands and deadline pressures of the sub-editing desk, ready to wash down the day’s cares with a beer and a fish-head or bak-kut-teh supper late in the evening after the paper had gone to bed, and the horrors of putting it all together could be forgotten and laughed off, together with the muttered curses said under his breath at slow copy, slovenly subbing and forced headlines.
Michael had a way with words, as good sub-editors usually do, and would deftly turn around a deadpan headline with a quick rewrite or, with furrows creasing his forehead under the unspoken pressure from editors at his back and impatient caseroom foremen downstairs, put it aside for a quickie smoke break to await inspiration.
Among his memorable headlines was “Matches for Our Matchless Heroes”, to go on a small picture story about a Warriors’ Day appeal.
In his own quiet way Michael, too, was matchless.
Michael is survived by his son, two daughters and three grandsons. His wife Catherine died several years ago.
The funeral, a private affair for family and relatives at his request, will be held in Sydney on Friday.