A Tribute to a Great Man
It was 6 a.m., 20 March 2010. I was getting ready to fly to Kuala Lumpur. This is one of those days that I have to break my die-hard routine – waking up only after 9 a.m.!
By 8.20 am I was in KL – took a nap at Yeong’s house for a while before a former classmate picked me up at 10.30 am to go for a lunch get-together. This was a special lunch organized specially to welcome Mr Iain Martin – our former principal of the now defunct College of Agriculture Malaya at Serdang (Note: CAM was replaced by Universiti Pertanian and now University Putra Malaysia).
Those at the lunch, including 3 former lecturers – seated (L) Dr. C. Devendra, Dr.(Mrs) Thomas, Mr. Martin (red shirt) and Professor H F Chin.
Mr. G. I. Martin was the principal of the Serdang College for five years and fortunately he was there when I was there, as a student for three years (from 1962). There were nearly thirty former students at the lunch – we came to honour the Man who had made a difference in our lives. Some “students” stood up to speak about how Martin – the principal – touched their young lives. Amazing, what this man from Scotland did in Serdang some 40 plus years ago had impacted us so much. Mr. Martin earned great respect and love from his former students. He was neither a tyrant nor an arrogant man who would abuse his power. But instead, this is a man dedicated to his cause – to nurture the young minds placed under his care.
At the College, he was The Boss – and by today’s standard, the boss stays in his big, comfortable office and couldn’t care less about his students. Why must a Boss care? Is it not better to play politics and polish apples of the Upper Ups? No, Martin’s daily routine was to go around the College farms every early morning where we students “worked”. He would chit chat with us and got to know us. Some evenings students got invited to his house for dinner. A few privileged ones were invited to KL for dinner at times. I was one of those privileged one. I remember one evening while in KL, I asked him about the news in the papers – William Holden – the film star – who made a movie shot at the Federal Hotel in KL. Being a kampong boy I was curious. Mr. Martin brought me to the Federal Hotel and showed me the location where they shot the movie.
I have also been a photographer since my school days. So when I was in Serdang, I continued with this hobby. One day, Mr. Martin talked to me and said I should use the College darkroom – no one was using it. And if I needed to buy any apparatus or chemicals, the College would buy for me. Later, he sent me and a lecturer to town to buy what I needed! You believe that? Oh Mr. Martin – you could have just played Big Boss and stayed in your Big Office (like many bosses today!) – why care about us? But you did not – you touched our lives by your informal and caring attitudes. The irony is, Mr. Martin did not teach us any course at all, i.e., no formal lecture at all. The lecturers were the ones who interacted with us everyday. By right we ought to respect our lecturers more than the college principal. But, it was not the case at Serdang College with Mr. Martin as the head. His humility, dedication and caring attitudes impacted my life and many other students like me.
It was a sharp contrast from my days at University of Malaya that I attended a year later. There at UM, the lecturers acted like semi gods. No – none of them can ever come near the quality of Mr. Martin (except for an American lady lecturer, Mrs. Louisa Jensen who supervised my final year project. This is a lady whom I regarded as dearly as my own mother).
Back to my Serdang days again. It was during the final exam period of my final year. As always, I was real worried if I would pass and graduate. Mr. Martin walked to me and said: Chris, you are going to be awarded the Pure and Applied Botany prize. Let me know what you want as a prize! Here I was, worried that I would fail and my Principal came and said I was to be given a prize during the graduation!
My final comment: We were at the Principal’s house for dinner. I told Mr. Martin that I wanted to go to the University to study some more. Mr. Martin said that I would have to go back and serve the Agricultural Department because that was what I was trained for. No Sir, if I were to stop at a diploma, I could not be like you. Without a degree, I would not be able to be like Mr. Martin! I told Mr. Martin: I want to be like you! This great Man nodded in agreement. Yes, Sir – I went on to do my basic degree at UM, then to the US for my Masters and Ph.D. I became a Professor of Botany at USM until my retirement in 2000.
But 20 March 2010 was the day for Mr. Martin. I flew in to KL to honour this wonderful teacher in my life. Gratitude, admiration and respect flowed from our hearts. Mr. Martin saw and experienced all that during that lunch get-together that afternoon of 20 March.
To you Sir, may I thank you again for all that you have done. You have made the lives of many of us beautiful.