Tribute to Michael Parry

Identity Card of Michael Graham Parry as Captain of
the Malaysian Team at the 1954 2nd Asian Games in Manila
When I received this email from Roger Loong, a reader, I felt compelled to share it:

“While reading through the obituary column in the newspaper on Jan 13, I came across the name Michael Graham Parry.  Being a Track & Field Statistician, I wanted to find out whether this person was the national athlete who represented the country in the 1954 Manila Asian Games.  

So I searched the internet and read the very interesting article on him written by you.

He went to the Asian Games as an athlete in which he finished 5th in the 4 x 400 meters Relay Team.  At home, besides being the Malayan champion for 440 Yards in 1953 with a time of 50.9 seconds, he also finished second in the same event in 1951, as well as 3rd in 1954 and 1956.  He was a finalist in 1957, the only time he represented Johor.  May his soul rest in peace.”

A young Michael Parry, then the second headmaster of
the Muar High School, at his farewell event in the school
I’m glad that my article, Guru Extraordinaire (NST Johor Streets, 10 Jan 2011) helped Loong to confirm that this was the same Michael Graham Parry who led the varsity team to the Second Asian Games in Manila as team manager in 1954.  

In that year, Parry also led the University of Malaya contingent to the Inter Varsity Games in HongKong.  He was a keen sportsman who was once the manager of the Johor Athletic team and captain of the Hockey League and used to play tennis at the Johor Civil Service Club, (now Johor Cultural and Sports Club), as well as golf at the Royal Johor Country Club, (now Johor Golf and Country Club).   

On Jan 15, Parry would have celebrated his 82nd birthday but in the early hours of Jan 12, he passed away peacefully after a long illness.  News of his passing spread quickly among his former students and colleagues, fellow Rotarians and Lodge members and a large group came to pay their last respects at a memorial gathering.  For his service to the country in education, Parry was awarded the Pingat Kemahkotaan (PK), Pingat Ibrahim Sultan (PIS) and the Ahili Mangku Negara (AMN) and while former students remember him as a strict headmaster and Rotarians regard him as Past District Governor Mike, I had the privilege of knowing him as my friend, Uncle Mike.

Parry’s son, Chris, said that his father had a very complete life, was a champion in sports and achieved the highest honour in his profession – the prestigious Tokoh Guru award in 1990.  He said Sekolah Sultan Ibrahim (SSI) in Kulaijaya, the Muar High School, the Rotary Club, the Masonic Lodge and JGCC were a significant part of his father’s life.  He said his father was also a great Malaysian because he would fly the National flag on every national day and raise his glass to toast the Sultan on his own birthday!

I was first acquainted with his wife, Dawn, through the Johor Speakers Club and often met them as a couple at social events in JB.  I was working on an article with his wife, a former headmistress of SIGS, when she passed away suddenly in 2010.  Uncle Mike was aware of what I was doing with her and with his permission I went on to complete my article as a tribute to her.

Uncle Mike often talked to me about his late wife and I got to know him better over the past few years.  They were a special couple and the close relationship they had is something every married couple would aspire to.  I was very touched when I later learnt from another source, that as Auntie Dawn’s eyesight was deteriorating and she could no longer pursue her passion in reading, Uncle Mike would read to her. 

After her passing, it was difficult for him to adjust to the changes as he deeply missed her.  I know he enjoyed good food and had a group of friends who met him regularly for lunch at his favourite restaurants like Tua Thow restaurant for Teochew fish noodles and South Indian banana leaf rice at Kerala Restaurant.  Although he had retired from playing golf, one of his favourite places to hang out was still the Johor Golf & Country Club (JGCC).

Every now and then, I would meet him at the club for lunch or an ice kacang and we would chat while he enjoyed sipping his favourite iced Milo drink.  Among other things, we discovered that he and my dad were from the same church in Ipoh.  Since August 2012, Uncle Mike was in and out of the hospital but in spite of his deteriorating health, he still had a great sense of humour.  When I visited Uncle Mike in the hospital, he would introduce me to the nurses and tell them, “Dia sama agama dengan saya!” meaning, we share the same faith.

M G Parry saying a few words after being
named "Father of SSI" by Chong Lian How
at her retirement as 10th principal of SSI in 2011
Chong Lian How, the 10th principal of SSI, paid tribute to Parry who established SSI as the first secondary school in Kulaijaya and was their first headmaster.  She described Parry as “strict but fatherly” and acknowledged his vast contributions which led the school to excel both academically and in sports.  At her retirement, she honoured Parry with the moniker, “Father of SSI,” for his role in the history of SSI and how he was also instrumental to the formation of the SSI alumni.

Parry certainly impacted the lives of many and there was a host of people who were ready to share their thoughts and experiences in an evening of bitter-sweet reminiscing.  Dr S. Shanmugam and Datuk Freddie Long recalled that Parry was their teacher in English College (now Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar) and acknowledged his guidance to them first as students and later as fellow Rotarians.  While J S Kwang described Parry as “generous,” Ng Swee Poh said Parry was active in Rotary Club activities and that they will continue the legacy of the Michael Parry Trophy which Parry donated in 2006.

The gathering at the memorial for M G Parry
I echo the words of Dr Maria Fernandez, who described Parry as “a legend – a warm-hearted gentleman, supportive husband and loving father.”  Fakir Singh, a former SSI colleague who fondly recalled how Parry installed him as the first Discipline Master, called Parry, “a gentleman, a scholar and an officer in every aspect of life” while former SSI student, Irene Fraud saluted Parry as “a giant of a man.”  Dr Ho Loon Shin, a former SSI head-prefect said that their alumni will miss his presence because Parry attended the alumni’s reunion every year. 

Michael Graham Parry [seated 2nd from Right] at the 2011 Rotary Club of Johor Baru dinner.
Peggy is seated on his Right.
Dr Ho also recalled that Parry often lamented that “half the fun is gone” after the demise of his wife but we are comforted because Parry was celebrating his birthday with her in heaven.  Fellow golfer, Kalbir Singh, said he has lost a very dear friend and brother and Chong summed up what everyone felt when she said, “We will miss him very much.”  Farewell Uncle Mike, until we meet again on that beautiful shore!

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 21 January 2013

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