MARCH 12 — Lawrence Vincent Fernandez died yesterday, two months and two weeks short of his 70th birthday.
You would have heard his voice on the RTM English service years ago when he was a sports commentator. But to Johannians, he was Master Vincent, beloved physical education teacher, hockey coach, school sports secretary and friend for life.
He was a rare breed of Malayan and Malaysian. Born in 1942 when the country was under Japanese rule, Vincent studied in St John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur from 1949 to 1957. Six years later, he began teaching in St John’s Institution until his retirement in 1997. His father studied there too, as did his male siblings. As did his three sons.
His wife, Hajjah Zabedah, also taught in St John’s Institution. But their daughter studied in Convent Bukit Nanas, next to the all-boys school that will now miss a familiar face.
Those who studied under him, trained under him and worked with him, were part of his extended family and always a familiar face in his house in Bangsar Park, where his trusty Volkswagen was parked along the road.
Today and last night, hundreds made the familiar trek to pay their last respects to the man who helped shape their lives.
On the pitch, he coached the St John’s Institution hockey team to dazzling heights in all secondary age-groups until he retired in 1997. When he retired, hockey similarly retired from the premier Christian Brothers School and the trophy cabinet in the portico is now bare of silverware. In class and after school hours, he taught life-long values that still inspire those who studied under his firm hand.
His talents lay beyond the classroom and the hockey field. His excellent command of the English language, sports knowledge and radio-friendly voice ensured listeners would get their fix of the daily sports news, from as far back as 1963, on the radio station now known as Traxx FM.
And he wrote well too, guiding the few of us to help him chronicle St John’s Institution’s history from the time tigers once hampered the construction of its red-and-white main building that is now a heritage building.
Master Vincent went beyond being a teacher for us Johannians. He became a good friend from school days, especially to the hockey boys, the quartermasters and anyone who came to admire this humble man with the biggest heart, an easy sense of humour and the ability to talk and listen to anyone who was around him — no matter their stature, class or race.
On his Twitter account that has only six tweets, Vincent described himself as “Student, School Teacher and Alumni member of St John’s Institution, KL.” His first tweet was on January 1, 2012 where he said, “Happy Birthday Johannian. St.John’s is 108 years old today. Fide Et Labore... SJI !” Always the school first.
There won’t be enough words to describe this man who touched many lives, whether as a student, a classmate, a friend, a school teacher or a colleague for those who saw him for one last time today.
There won’t be enough time to recall all the stories about his experiences with his students nor for his students to extol his deeds. But we can start now and let everyone know that here was a Johannian, a Malaysian who did things his own way and became a part of our lives.
We buried him today as Zahari Fernandez Abdullah but he will always be Master Vincent to all of us who knew him. And celebrate the life of man who will always be the Johannian and Malaysian that we can only aspire to be.
Rest in peace, Al-Fatihah Sir.
* Jahabar Sadiq studied at St John’s Institution, Kuala Lumpur.