Former Sarawak DCM Datuk Amar James Wong dies at 89

Posted on July 18, 2011


Datuk Amar James Wong Kim Min (6-8-1922 – 18-7-2011)

I just found out from an article in The Borneo Post that Datuk James Wong Kim Min passed away this morning after a heart attack. 

He was rushed to Normah Medical Specialist Centre here at about 10am and died shortly after.

An article from The Borneo Post on the late Wong:

Make formation of Malaysia a subject in school — Wong

Posted on November 13, 2010, Saturday

KUCHING: Former state minister Datuk Amar James Wong Kim Min, who played a key role in the formation of Malaysia, suggests that the history of how Malaysia was formed should be made a subject in school.

He urged Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in his capacity as the Minister of Education to consider this.

He reasoned that its introduction as a subject was important because the nation’s formation represented a very significant history that all Malaysians should know, particularly the new generation, so as to realise how lucky they are that Malaysia was formed.

“For us in Sarawak, we should consider ourselves very lucky because if Malaysia was not formed (on September 16, 1963) our beloved state could have been sold to Indonesia,” he said.

He said this in his opening remarks when launching his two new books – ‘Memories of Speeches made at the Council Negeri’ and ‘The Birth of Malaysia” (third edition)’ at the Sarawak Club yesterday.

On ‘Memories of Speeches Made at the Council Negeri’, which contains extracts of his speeches during his tenure as an assemblyman and as a member of the State Cabinet, Wong said it would be very useful to the current and future elected representatives.

“By reading the book you will get to know more about the history of the Council Negeri as the book is considered historical in genre because it also covers many years prior to the formation of Malaysia and the early years after Malaysia came into being,” he said.

Wong is one of Sarawak’s best known personalities because apart from being a politician who played a key role in the formation of Malaysia, a former state minister and legislator at both state and federal levels, he was also a poet, golfer and environmentalist.

Born on August 6, 1922 in Limbang, he received his primary and secondary education at St Mary’s School and St Thomas School here before studying at Serdang College of Agriculture in Selangor. His tertiary education was interrupted by the Second World War so he returned to Limbang.

He became the pioneer of the hill logging industry in Sarawak in 1949 while 1953 saw the beginning of his long and distinguished political career when he became a member of the Limbang District Council.

From 1956 to 2001, be was a member of the Sarawak Council Negeri and with the advent of Malaysia, he served as a member of the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee, which among its tasks, was to formulate terms for the entry of Sabah (North Borneo) and Sarawak into Malaysia.

He was Deputy Chief Minister in Sarawak’s first Cabinet (1111963-1966) and during that period he was a deputy leader in the Malaysia Goodwill Mission to Africa (to gain Afro-Asia support for the new Federation of Malaysia) and a member of Malaysia’s delegation to the first session of the UN General Assembly.

He was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) from March 1974 to 1976 and when he retired from active public service in 2001, he was the longest serving assemblyman in the country having been in the country’s oldest legislative body.

His friends and guests, including a Sabahan politician Datuk Dr Jeffery Kitingan,  were present at the book launch yesterday.

Another news article from The Star:

James Wong comes up with new book of memories

Saturday November 13, 2010

The books, which are historical in genre, are now available for sale.

Memories of Speeches is a collection of extracts of speeches (from the State Legislative Assembly handsard) made by Wong while serving as a state assemblyman and as a minister in the State Cabinet from 1960 to 2001.

It covers many significant events which unfolded in Sarawak during that period, especially in the few years prior to the formation of Malaysia and the early years after Malaysia came into being.

Latest work: Wong showing his book entitled Memories of Speeches Made at the Council Negri 1960-2001 during the launch in Kuching.

The book also contains information on the establishment of many of the state’s semi-government bodies and recordings of other events and happenings, especially those on the development of Sarawak.

The political history part is represented by pictures of past and present leaders (governors, chief ministers and speakers) and their terms of office.

Meanwhile, the third edition of Birth of Malaysia is an update of his previous books complete with important documents on the birth to Malaysia which can serve as a reference for the younger generation on whose hands the future of the nation lies.

Both books were launched at Sarawak Club in Kuching yesterday.

Wong, a former Sarawak National Party president, said he wanted to write the Memories book before he retired from public service in 2001, but managed to have it launched only yesterday because “it took a long time for me to acquire the hansard, which is a crucial piece for the book”.

As for Birth of Malaysia, Wong, who played a key role in the formation of Malaysia, hoped “it would benefit a lot of us, especially the young generation, who know very little about the birth of our beloved nation”.

Wong began his career in public service as a member of the Limbang District Council before serving as a member of the State Assembly from 1956 to 2001.

With the advent of Malaysia, he was a member of the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee, which had the task of formulating the terms for the entry of Sabah and Sarawak to form Malaysia.

When Wong retired from active public service, he was the longest-serving members of the State Assembly and served in the oldest legislative body of Malaysia.

His tenure in public service lasted almost half a century and the Sarawak State Assembly is 143 years old this year.

An feature in The Star on the late Wong:

Dedicated to public service

Sunday July 1, 2007

SARAWAK’S Limbang division is a beautiful part of the country. Located in the north-eastern part of the state, it borders both Brunei and Sabah and has managed considerable economic progress while maintaining some of the charm it once had as a sleepy hollow.

It is also home to the celebrated Hakka Wong family who have played a part in Sarawakian, and indeed Malaysia’s, history for more than a century. Central to all this is former Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar James Wong Kim Min, whose tenure in public service lasted almost half a century.

Wong’s family history of public service began with his maternal grandfather, Chia Jin Kui, who was the first chief clerk in Limbang. Chia was appointed under British Resident O.F. Ricketts, during the time of the White Rajah ruler Charles Brooke.

Also prominent in public service and social circles at the time was community leader William Wong Tsap En.

Descended from an orphan who came to Sarawak from China, William was a self-made man who interests included a large rubber estate. He eventually married Chia’s daughter, Frances.

When Datuk Amar James Wong Kim Min and Valerie Bong married in the 1940s, they united two families with a long history of public service.

The family was prosperous in the years following World War I but during the Great Depression (1929-1933), William lost most of his wealth, and the Wong children were even obliged to stop schooling.William eventually recovered his financial standing, and son James was sent to Peninsular Malaya to study – only for World War II to intrude.

“Of all the traumatic times, the Japanese occupation was the worst,” recalls James.

“In June 1945, just before the Japanese were defeated, my father was taken to Brunei and, along with 24 others, beheaded. They were all buried in one pit.

“It might have been because he was a community leader, but it could just as well have been a case of mistaken identity.”

Even after the Japanese left, life was not a bed of roses.

In the 1950s there was a persistent Communist insurgency (in Sarawak, it was the Clandestine Communist Organisation not the Communist Party of Malaya), while the early 1960s saw the Brunei Revolt and Confrontation with Indonesia – in December 1962, James had to hide in the jungle to avoid rebels of the Tentera Nasional Kalimantan Utama.

“The rebels were after me as ‘Ketua Malaysia’ because I supported Sarawak joining the proposed Federation of Malaysia with Malaya, Singapore and Sabah,” explains James.

Indeed James’ participation in the Malaysia Solidarity Consul-tative Committee chaired by former Sabah Chief Minister Tun Fuad (Donald) Stephens, was crucial to the formation of Malaysia itself.

The controversial sacking of the Sarawak State Government under Tan Sri Datuk Amar Stephen Kalong Ningkan in 1966 brought about another less stable period in Sarawak and the Wong family’s history.

By this time, James had married, and his union furthered cemented his family’s ties to public service: the woman he married, Valerie, was the daughter of the man who replaced Chia as chief clerk, Bong Nyuk Poh.

James spent a decade as an opposition leader and in 1974 even assumed the role of the leader of the opposition in Malaysia’s national parliament after SNAP’s excellent performance in the state elections.

But it was only a prelude to a traumatic spell in detention under the Internal Security Act.

Upon SNAP’s entry into Barisan Nasional, finally a stable period ensued, with James serving in the state cabinet under Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud for nearly two decades.

During this time, he was variously State Minister for Tourism, Housing, Environment, Public Health and Local Government.

Towards its final days in government, SNAP was heavily dominated by the Wong family.

At one point, aside from James being president, his eldest son, former Limbang assemblyman Richard Shoon Fook, was senior vice president, his brother-in-law, Senator Datuk Michael Bong, was deputy secretary-general and his son-in-law, Denis Liew, served as assistant secretary-general of the party.

The new generation of Wongs is a multi-racial one, with James’ eight children having married a range of nationalities, from Australian and Scot to Anglo-Indian and Singaporean.

A connection to another illustrious Sarawakian family was established when the daughter of George Wong, James’ youngest brother, married Daryl Jabu, son of Sarawak’s current Deputy Chief Minister, Tan Sri Alfred Jabu.