Development & Alumni Relations Office 

Dr Michael Leong Hong Kah (died 12 February 2016, aged 54)

Extract from appreciation by Dr Chow YN; a full version of this article is available here. Further tributes can also be found here and in The Straits Times.

I first heard of Michael’s fight with colon cancer when I read his blog in April 2015. In late November 2015, through an exchange of emails he told me: “I am still recovering from colon cancer.”

Michael and I came from the same hometown, Ipoh, but despite our being of similar age, our paths never crossed until we both were in the UK. Our first meeting was around Christmas 1979 in London. Michael’s elder brother, Dr Tony Leong was studying medicine at Newcastle University, England and I along with my three other friends (all former SMJK Sam Tet Ipoh boys) were students at South Shields Marine and Technical College, 10 miles away.

In 1982, armed with my GCE ‘A’ levels result slips I went to Belfast to read agriculture. I only had two acquaintances in Belfast, Michael Leong and Khoo Thiam Chye. October 1982 was the start of my 30-year friendship with Michael Leong.

Michael took me to Queen’s admission office and then to different faculties to help me finally get a seat to read general agriculture. As both of us were busy with our studies I bumped into him only once or twice during 1982/83 academic year. In 1983 I defeated him when we both stood for the presidency of the Malaysian Students’ Society of Northern Ireland (MSSNI). I think it was not that I was a stronger candidate, but the fact that the ‘medic gang’ (the medical students formed the largest contingent of Malaysians at Queen’s in the 1980s) was competing with the non-medic gang (mainly engineering students) and I being the ‘neutral’ person somehow was the compromise candidate. Michael did get elected as the Vice President of MSSNI.

I appreciated the great contributions from him especially when our Treasurer, Cheong Kok Wai had to relinquish the position suddenly. We had lots of fun together including successfully smuggling a fellow Malaysian (a young lady) back to Stranmillis College late one night!

As we both embarked on our respective final year (Michael’s medical degree took 5 years and mine took 3), we seldom got together in 1984/85. However, I recall helping him take the engine out of his old Peugeot 305, sending it for repair and putting it back together and doing the test run. We also helped a fellow student, Mr Lai to change his car’s clutch. All was done in the garage pit of Belfast’s Malaysian Centre!

We also shared the joy of graduating on the same day – Michael with an MB BCh BAO, me with BAgr – at the same venue, the Sir William Whitla Hall at Queen’s in July 1985.

Michael got a job working in a dermatologist’s practice in London and so he relocated there. By the late 1990s he had a new position with a US multinational hardware company and relocated again, this time to Singapore as its medical systems specialist.

When I received the offer of a postdoctoral research position at the National University of Singapore in January 1991, I contacted Michael to seek his advice on accommodation. He kindly found me a room and loaned me two thousands Singapore dollars to get settled in. It took me more than six months to repay him!

After my stint in Singapore in 1996, my wife May and I moved back to Malaysia. We kept in good contact with Michael and Irene by phone. For a couple of years May also served as a director of Michael’s Malaysian company. The Leong and Chow families had our meetings occasionally when Michael brought his family to Kuala Lumpur for holidays. The last time our families met was in 2012.

The last time I met Michael and family was on June 02, 2014. My wife and I needed to go to Singapore to sort out some financial matters and Michael drove his family all the way to Changi Airport just to have dinner with us. Possibly because Michael always remembered me as the student surviving on subsistence level stipend, he would always buy the meal. I regret never having the chance to repay the compliment.

Michael was a quiet person despite the infectious laughs and that gentle smile of his. Perhaps only Irene knows his inner self better. In April 2015, not knowing the full extent of Michael’s illness I tried to help Queen’s Head of Alumni Relations, Ian Moore to seek a short meeting with him but Michael politely declined saying: “My life is for my family and for close friends only. Thanks.” That was his answer. By retiring at the age of 48 as a financially independent person Michael put his family first spending the last 8 years fully filled with quality time with his wife, daughter Annabelle and son Aaron. I think not many of us could have had this joy of Michael’s.

On the morning of Feb 12, 2016 I lost a great buddy. The readers of lost the ‘oldman’, Michael’s moniker. The community of investors in Singapore have lost a great role model. Most of all, his family have lost a caring father and a very devoted husband.

Michael, may you rest in peace.

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