LEE LAM THYE — SERVING THE NATION
There are not many people who do not know him and if there’s anyone who is easily identified as a people’s champion, that person is him
GARY is bent on becoming a member of parliament (MP). He’s only 16 and still in school. But he harbours a burning ambition of becoming a politician and serving the country.
Gary is a talkative young fellow, with ideas and opinions about everything. I asked him a simple question: “Why do you want to be a politician?”
Gary shot back: “Uncle, a politician can do many things for the country. I want to help my family and every Malaysian. I want to be the people’s leader.”
It was difficult not to like this young man, with all his enthusiasm and knowledge of the world.
Young people like Gary should be encouraged and guided because they can be an asset for the future.
I told him to google a few names if he wished to look for some outstanding examples of local leaders. One of them is Lee Lam Thye, now a Tan Sri, of course, and an active social activist.
There are not many people who do not know Lee Lam Thye. If there’s anyone who is easily identified as a people’s champion, that person has got to be Lee Lam Thye.
For as long as I can remember, this Ipoh-born young 71-yearold social activist has been serving the community in whatever way he could.
It can be argued that Lee is more effective outside politics than inside it. Lee was immensely popular when he was a DAP leader and an elected representative.
Lee was the state assemblyman for Bukit Nanas, Selangor, from 1969 to 1974. He then contested the parliamentary seat of Bukit Bintang and was its MP from 1974 to 1990.
In the 1970s when Lee was a state assemblyman in Selangor, members of the press could easily call him and his mobile office. Well ahead of other politicians, Lee had prepared himself well to serve the people.
It wasn’t just his constituents or the people who voted for him who respected him. Almost everyone who came into contact with him had good words for Lee.
Those who sought his help came from all walks of life and from various communities.
They wanted help in the form of a letter of recommendation or support for scholarship or housing or seeking employment.
Small businessmen, such as petty traders and hawkers, regarded Lee as their saviour on many occasions. Lee would stand by them each time they encountered problems with the authorities.
This is not to say that Lee would back everyone who came to see him with grievances or complaints. He would digest their problems and then advise the complainants about the right steps to take.
Members of the media in the 1970s would often see Lee being stopped by a constituent seeking help and intervention.
Many a time Lee would whisk out his portable typewriter from his car boot and type a letter on his letterhead there and then — be it in the coffeeshop or the nearby hawker stall.
It wasn’t a rare sight to catch Lee sitting with a voter or any member of the community as they composed an appeal letter or a letter of recommendation.
“Lee Lam Thye punya signature laku (Lee Lam Thye’s signature is good and effective),” those, who sought his help, would proudly proclaim.
In fact, many Malay voters I met in the 1970s would not hesitate to vote for him.
In fact, one of the most popular campaign quotes then was this: “Kalau Lee Lam Thye lawan di Kampung Baru pun dia boleh menang!” (If Lee Lam Thye contests in Kampung Baru, he will win). You see, Kampung Baru is a predominantly Malay area and no non-Malay has ever contested there).
Lee was media-savvy even in those years. He was about the only MP who would type out his statements in the Dewan Rakyat. He would then walk to the press room to hand them over to the journalists at work.
He made it easier for the press to cover him. He didn’t have a press secretary and so had to do everything on his own.
One thing about Lee though — he would call a spade a spade. And he would give credit where credit is due. It was not common to see an opposition MP giving credit to the government then.
Lee left politics in 1990 to focus on social work.
Lee Lam Thye