By Gobind Rudra
Those qualities set him apart from other would-be interns and freelancers when he walked into the Weld Quay office of the fledgling Star in 1972, while he was at Universiti Sains Malaysia.
It was more than an interest in newspapers or the in Star, then making an impact with the young. There was a more personal angle: Shirley Teoh, the tall, soft-spoken assistant head of the copy-input team of girls handling the Justowriter machines.
Philip had met Shirley at church, and would drop by the Star to see her or to drop off an article, which was just as good an excuse to see Shirley. They’ve been together ever since.
Eventually Philip turned up at the New Straits Times, then the rich ad-laden money machine and establishment institution read for what it didn’t say as much as what it did.
As a cadet sub-editor, he patiently suffered the indignities of twiddling thumbs, editing short two-paragraph “fillers” or of nights shift under the somewhat imperious gaze of a brash, over-confident young tyrant who was the bane of the Composing Room foremen.
It was the task then of the night shift to end the night with the London Stock Exchange closing prices, calculating the changes and recording the ups and downs. Cadet subs, as mere minions, were always assigned this task. Philip laboriously pored through the tables, cursing under his breath at having to do primary-school arithmetic (in fractions) at 1am.
On being told one night, “Young feller, leave that be and go home to your sweet wife before your brains curdle and you forget what to do”, Philip broke out with a huge grin, and a mock military salute. “Yes sir, right away sir.”
Three decades later, he was good enough to take on the now-diminished tyrant on to his Life & Times subs desk, where Philip had become Chief Sub after stints at the general Subs Desk and as head of Prai operations.
One Sunday he said to pack off early, casually remarking how he was once relieved of the drudgery of stock prices. As was true of Philip, he remained loyal to friends throughout his career.
Philip had a keen interest in photography, food, travel, movies and television and turned those interests into a stream of columns and articles he contributed to the other lifestyle sections of the paper. Payments for the articles, written off-duty, paid for his forays into the small towns and villages across the peninsula. “Okay, can get a couple of stories out of my trip, kow tim,” he would sometimes remark.
The same practical sense of thrift saw him tootling to work on his old kapcai Honda motorcycle from Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya, to Balai Berita, not bothered by status-conscious concerns of other executives, and driving to work only because of the gout that afflicted him
He always had a quip for every occasion, and his love of word play produced headlines which regularly won the monthly headline-writing awards in the newsroom.
Soo Ewe Jin of the Star recalled an occasion bumping into Philip at a Cliff Richard concert in Stadium Negara, and being told: “Here we are, the young once”. Says Ewe Jin, “We all burst out laughing.”
Young once and young-at-heart always.
Last Tuesday, though, age finally caught up. He collapsed in the bathroom in the evening after returning from a shopping trip with the family, several days after having complained of chest pains.
He is survived by his wife Shirley, and their children Aaron and Maxine.
PHILIP LIM CHIN GUAN
former Chief Sub-Editor, Life&Times
New Straits Times
1954 – 2013