By Suresh Nair
THREE months and three weeks after he died, Paul Mony Samuel was remembered in a nostalgic reunion at the Concorde Hotel Ballroom in Kuala Lumpur.
Some of the biggest celebrities in Malaysian football turned up, to join the Samuel family and friends to sing distinguished praises for the 72-year-old world-class sporting gentleman, who died on April 16 from complications stemming from Parkinson’s disease.
Grandly organised by the ‘Magnificent Seven’ — iconic journalists George Das, R. Velu, Lazarus Rokk, Fauzi Omar, Johnson Fernandez, Christopher Raj and AFC General Secretary Windsor Paul John — the roof literally came down with glorious tributes to the former AFC boss, who lived and led by example.
‘A Celebration Of Life’ was the exemplary four-worded title-salute at the Sunday memorial on August 7 in Kuala Lumpur for the late Dato Seri Paul Mony Samuel, the humble “kampong” lad from Kuala Ketil, Kedah, who rose up the skies to be a global football demi-god.
Datin Seri Kristine Samuel and only son, Andrew Paul, and closest family members, were overwhelmed by the evocative occasion as family and friends recounted their very special moments of this footballing giant.
From Jita Singh (Singapore “Coach of the Year” 1981), Kwok Ka Min (ex-Hong Kong player-coach), Dato’ M. Chandran (Malaysia’s ex-Olympian football skipper), Datuk Peter Velappan (former longest-serving AFC General Secretary), Dato’ Alex Soosay (AFC Consultant), Dato’ Santokh Singh (Malaysia), Dato’ Yap Nyim Keong (FIFA Instructor), Shamsul Maidin (AFC Director of Referees) and even legendary Olympian sprinter Tan Sri Dr Mani Jegathesan were among the VIP crowd.
I was blessed to be at the memorial, where a celebrated slew of speakers spoke from the nitty-gritties of Dato Seri Paul’s dedicated teaching in primary, lower secondary schools and teacher training colleges, and, rather extraordinarily, how the man with the biggest heart for the grassroots, would go out of his way to aid pupils in need of the financial sustenance to continue with their schooling.
As the famous Malaysian journalist Terence Netto, of The Malay Mail, says: “Paul was a 1Malaysia person long before that slogan was minted. He helped Malay, Chinese and Indian pupils, students, peers and friends whenever he perceived their need or it was requested of him.
“He showed sympathy for the plight of those on the lower rungs of places where he worked and served, and whenever he could, helped and uplifted them. He gave breaks to many, keeping in mind the times when he too was the recipient of breaks rendered by others.”
In the 15-page memorial book to commemorate the Sunday occasion, I hailed Dato Seri Paul as a “modern-day global football thinker”, a “gentleman who even honoured the groundsman”!
I noted an old saying: “Give honour where honour is due”. And to Dato Seri Paul, this was a life mantra. He never undermined authority and even in disagreement, he was absolutely gracious.
Indian-based eminent sports journalist Babu Mather, now Vice Chairman of the Indian Football Federation’s disciplinary committee, branded him a “football player, coach, teacher, technical instructor, able administrator and gentleman par excellence…all rolled into one”.
Dato Seri Paul, let me write this from the bottom of my heart: No words can complete how Malaysia, Singapore and Asian football can ever thank you for your phenomenal contributions to world football. As Kuala Lumpur-based high-powered PR director Christopher Raj says, quoting the biblical line in 2 Timothy 4:7, “he fought a good fight, he finished the race and he kept the faith”.
GIVING TO OTHERS
If one wondered about the munificence of giving to others in the later years, one merely had to advert to the Christian saying that to whom much is given, much is required. Having been given much, Dato Seri Paul gave in return until it, in some instances at least, must have hurt him.
Little wonder then that Sunday’s memorial was, aptly themed, “A Celebration Of Life”, divinely bathed in the warm glow of gratitude exuded by recipients of his faith-driven giving.
Ironically, if you wondered why it took three months and three weeks for an iconic memorial to be organised, I can reveal it’s because the ‘Magnificent Seven’ – smashing former journalists George Das, R. Velu, Lazarus Rokk, Fauzi Omar, Johnson Fernandez, Christopher Raj and AFC General Secretary Windsor Paul John – allowed a suitable period of time to elapse after it seemed the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), to which Paul had given 16 years of insuperable service as secretary-general (1984 to 2000) and before that had done several probationary stints which had showcased his top quality, were not going to do so.
It’s in my opinion, a saddest testament that Malaysian and Singaporean sporting heroes, who give their “blood, sweat and tears”, and hailed on the global stage, are seldom recognised by the local association which they had served. This can only be summed up as an absolute shame or a stab of conscience of the lack of a lively sporting culture in both countries.
We love you, Dato Seri Paul. Rest in peace and be consoled that you’ll always be remembered and celebrated in life.
In my mind forever, he will remain a fascinating breath of fresh air for sportsmanship.
Come the anniversary, or three years or three decades from now, the candle will still burn bright simply because Dato Seri Paul’s extraordinary compassionate legacy will live on for the younger generations to emulate.
I will forever salute THE man: A very rare breed of Made-in-Malaysia exemplary football statesman.
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist, who knew the late Dato Seri Paul for more than three decades and feel blessed to be invited for the Sunday, August 7 memorial