Omar Ong Yoke Lin: the passing of an era
KUALA LUMPUR, July 1 — With the death of Tun Omar Ong Yoke Lin, Malaysia mourned the loss of its last Independence fighter and the last member of the country’s first Cabinet under Tunku Abdul Rahman.
Omar was a founding member of MCA and in 1952, together with Datuk Yahya Razak of Umno, paved the formation of the MCA-Umno Alliance that led to the birth of the multi-racial coalition and forerunner of the Barisan Nasional that continues to rule the country today.
“It was Ong Yoke Lin (now Tan Sri Omar Ong Yoke Lin) who got together with Datuk Yahya and decided to form an alliance to contest this election,” Tunku wrote in his 1977 book, Looking Back, harking back to the 1952 Kuala Lumpur municipal elections while the country was still under British rule.
The Alliance captured nine of the 12 seats in the elections and it was joined by MIC later.
Omar was then Selangor MCA chief and went on to become MCA vice-president and Member of Parliament for Hulu Selangor.
The bespectacled Omar was also among the four-member Alliance party to finalise the then Malaya constitution in London in April 1957 ahead of independence in August the same year.
In 1961, he headed the Malayan delegation to Sarawak to discuss the formation of a larger federation of Malaysia and was one of the signatories of the agreement on the establishment of Malaysia signed in London in September 1963.
He was made posts and telecommunications minister by Tunku in his first 10-man Cabinet in 1955 that included luminaries like Tun Abdul Razak, V.T. Sambathan, Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman and H.S. Lee.
Between 1956 and 1957, he was transport minister, and in the country’s post-Independence first Cabinet, Omar was given the portfolio of labour and social welfare.
He served as health and social welfare minister (1959-1962) and minister without portfolio (1962-1973).
In May 1962, Omar left for the United States to serve concurrently as a Cabinet minister and Permanent Representative to the United Nations for a decade until 1972.
From 1964 to 1966, he was a senator, and was assigned abroad again in 1967 as Malaysia’s first ambassador to Brazil until 1972, before returning to be reappointed senator.
He served as Senate president from 1973 and retired in 1980.
Omar then held several top posts in the private sector that included chairman of Esso Malaysia Bhd, Malaysian Oxygen Bhd and OYL Industries Bhd.
Born in Kuala Lumpur on July 23, 1917, Omar had his early schooling at the Pudu Girls’ English School before he attended Victoria Institution where be became friends with his Alliance partner, Yahya.
He passed the matriculation examination for London University in 1934.
Omar converted to Islam in 1961.
He was awarded the federal honour, Pingat Mangku Negara, in 1959 which gave him the “Tan Sri” title and in 1979, he was bestowed the Seri Setia Mahkota that made him “Tun”.
He was actively involved in social work as chairman of both the Malaysian Red Cross Society and St John’s Ambulance Brigade between 1959 and 1962, Malaysian Heart Foundation president (1991), Malaysian Muslim Welfare Organisation (Perkim) vice-president (1990).
During the Emergency in the 60s, he was the chief officer for the Home Guard in Kuala Lumpur. — Bernama