Malay Mail’s editor-in-chief Datuk Wong Sai Wan may be best known in public as a veteran journalist fondly remembered by his peers and former colleagues, but he is also remembered by his children for being a humorous and supportive father and for golf sessions together.
His son Wong Chee Mun, 30, said the family was “very sad” as his father’s death yesterday morning of a heart attack was “very sudden” and “very unexpected”.
Having been busy with the funeral arrangements yesterday, he said he only saw the tributes to his father close to midnight, adding that he was “pleasantly surprised” and “very touched” by the tributes.
“Especially with the Agong, former prime minister, ministers all, giving their tributes very, very touched. Never expected it. When I look at my dad, I just see him as a dad. But I think it’s a very sudden passing to us; still trying to come to terms with it,” he told Malay Mail when met at his father’s wake.
Chee Mun said his father was a “larger than life character”, adding that his father used to write a lot of small anecdotes about life in his weekly column “Why Not?” when he was still with The Star.
“Back then people knew me because of my father’s column. People would come to me and say I heard you said this. How do you know I said this? I read it in your father’s column. Apparently, you think if you spend money to spur the economy, the economy will become better,” he said.
He said his fondest memory was probably playing golf together with his father, who was an avid golfer.
He then shared how he eventually “fell in love” with the sport of golf.
“When I was very young, I wanted to play football, he wanted me to play golf. So where we were staying in Subang back then, there was a community league, it’s on Sunday when I want to play football with my friends. Unfortunately, he wanted to send me for golf lessons, which were also on Sunday.
“What happened then is that he wrote about it back then when he was still with The Star. I remember it’s called golf or football. Ended up he asked me to choose one. I chose football.
He still made me go for golf, so I ended up going for golf between 12 and 4pm. Then 5pm to 6pm I went for football.
“Ever since then since he forced me to play golf, I’ve learnt to love the game, so now and then, I will go and golf. The way we spent time is we go play golf together,” he said.
“I think it’s the one thing that we had in common, we really enjoyed playing golf together,” he said, adding that he would play golf together with his father every time they went on family holidays abroad.
One of the last golf games they played together was during the recovery movement control order (RMCO), when they went to Seremban to play the Father and Son golf tournament, he said.
Chee Mun also remembered his father as being very supportive of his children’s choices in terms of their career.
“I was very grateful to him as a father because his style of parenting was very different from most people. I didn’t want to become a doctor, engineer or accountant. He was like ‘oh, please don’t’. Then I said I wanted to be a journalist. My degree is actually in journalism, but he begged me not to become a journalist,” he said, adding that his father had never once said ‘no’ to any of his career choices.
“He’s always been ‘you do whatever makes you happy,’” he said.
“I think the good part I think maybe where my father helped me a lot, he was never the kind that said you need straight ‘As’,” he said, adding that he was instead taught to be resourceful.
Recalling how he had waited for his father at home to ask questions, he said that his father had instead asked him to seek out answers on his own first.
“He took out a dictionary, put it in front of me, ‘I bought this for you, any answer you need. If you don’t understand the word just look inside there. If you still cannot find it, then ask me. But if you haven’t even bothered to try to find the answer, don’t come to me yet.
“He made me quite resourceful in that sense. Try to find my own way first, and only if I can’t do it, then go to him, then he will help me out,” he said, adding that he had the “same mentality” when he went abroad to study and that this was something that he carried on in the way he approached his work.
“His style of parenting made me quite resourceful. I quite enjoyed that,” he said, noting that this same attitude helped in his current work which involves business development where a lot of answers are not readily available.
“It helps I have that attitude implanted in me, go and figure it out, be resourceful, don’t just try to be spoon-fed, that was his way of parenting,” said Chee Mun, who now works as assistant category manager for Shopee Pay.
Sai Wan’s daughter Wong Yik Pen, 25, said she did not expect the tributes from Istana Negara and the prime minister, as she just thinks of him as a normal father, affectionately thinking of him as a “grumpy old man”.
“But it feels almost like he is living a double life, it’s like he’s like Clark Kent at home, and Superman outside, such a big celebrity — I don’t think any of us knew,” she told Malay Mail when met at the wake.
On the sudden unexpected passing of her father, she said the family was alerted at around 5am or 6am and that they drove immediately to the hospital, but he was already dead by then.
“It is what it is, there’s nothing we can do to change about this situation, except accept what has happened, and just accept that hopefully, he didn’t have to suffer,” she said.
While her father had heart issues in the past, she said that his stroke last year was a very mild stroke that he completely recovered from, and he could walk and was doing great.
She last met him last week when she visited his house a week ago to repair his robot vacuum cleaner and to install a new one, noting: “I do a lot of random things with my dad, especially after the stroke end of last year. Ever since the stroke, I have been doing a lot more errands for him. I saw him last week, and I was texting him the day before he passed, and he seemed fine, there was no indication that he was going to have a heart attack.”
She remembers her father to be a funny person: “I think that’s the thing about my dad, my dad is all about humour. My dad is a very funny guy, he’s a very serious man, don’t get me wrong, but he never takes himself too seriously, he’s always about having a good laugh. Everything about him is having a good laugh.”
She said she has many fond memories of her father, also agreeing that he had given her freedom to pursue her career choices.
“Both my parents have never necessarily said ‘no, you got to do this in your life’. They were just like do what engages with you the most. The only thing was he told me not to go into media, I think because of the lifestyle. He just told me, don’t go into media, it’s too hard.
“To be honest, even if he didn’t tell me, I would probably agree, it’s difficult. Growing up, we don’t see much of him, because his whole life is dedicated to work. Work is his life. So even I don’t personally think I will go down this route, but he has always been very supportive of whatever I do, anything and everything,” she said.
She graduated in fashion at the end of 2019 and has been pursuing work in fashion since then.
Their father, who was born in Negri Sembilan, passed away yesterday morning at the age of 59.
He was a veteran of the news industry of close to four decades, starting off as a reporter with The Star and taking on various roles before eventually being appointed as Malay Mail’s editor-in-chief in 2014.
A wake for Wong was held from 11am to 6pm today and will also be held at the same time tomorrow at Xiao En Centre on 1 Jalan Kuari in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.
Due to current standard operating procedures (SOP) under the movement control order (MCO), only 50 people will be allowed at one time, with a waiting area if those present exceed the permitted number.
A funeral service is set for 10am on May 17, with a restriction of 15 people. – MMO