‘Controversial’ Tan Gim Hwa was more popular than the CM

GEORGE TOWN, Jan 14 — Pek Moh (white hair).

That’s how Datuk Tan Gim Hwa was described by those in the political scene in Penang and among his close friends.

He didn’t seem to mind though. In fact, he had gracefully accepted the nickname.

After all, his hair was white then.

Tan passed away at his residence in Halaman Macalister at about 11pm on Sunday. He was 76.

All his family members were with him when he breathed his last.

Tan had been in and out of hospital during his last few days. He was on life-support and his heart stopped twice. 

He was also in a coma when his health deteriorated after suffering from multiple strokes since May last year.

He was still healthy a year ago, albeit having to attend dialysis treatment.

I met him a year ago during an evening church service. 

He was still in his usual jovial mood and could even sit through several hours of the long evening sermon conducted by my lady pastor.

I called him on the phone the following morning and asked if he would be attend the coming Sunday morning service but he talked politics to me instead.

Tan asked me in his coarse voice if he actually was a controversial figure as painted by his fellow Gerakan members and those from the DAP?

“I have been the party chairman for so many years and they got the guts to sack me, you know?” he said in a choking voice, as he was physically weak then.

I replied: “No, lah, Datuk! You are not (a controversial figure).”

But Tan was a controversial figure, more so after he was appointed the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) president for five years, from 1990 to 1995.

Never a day would the then DAP secretary-general Lim Kit Siang, who was the Tanjung MP at that time, not haunt Tan over and over. 

Tan’s health deteriorated after suffering multiple strokes since May last year. — Picture by The Malay Mail
Tan’s health deteriorated after suffering multiple strokes since May last year. — Picture by The Malay Mail

Tan simply reeled under Lim’s attacks over the controversial construction of the Midlands Park One-Stop Centre in Pulau Tikus, for having disregarded the MPPP Structure Plan in destroying Gurney Drive as a recreation centre by approving the exclusive 36-storey Silverton Condomonium, and the demolition of Hotel Metropole in Sultan Ahmad Shah, then known as millionaires’ row.

If that was not enough, Tan suffered the ignominy of being sacked as the Penang Gerakan chairman in 2000.

He was nevertheless a good newsmaker.

Being a controversial figure, he was sought after even more than the then chief minister.

There must always be a follow-up on Tan Gim Hwa in the newspaper bureau’s morning schedule everyday.

Tan knew they could never get enough of him and he made an effort to meet those who were close to him again in the evening.

Those who want exclusive and juice news about the council from Tan would, without fail, gather at a bah kut teh restaurant in Gurney Drive late in the evening and wait for him.

Having shared a wonderful meal with them, he would divulge everything that went on in the council in detail. 

The meeting or gossip, if you like to put it that way, often dragged till past midnight.

No one was to go back home before 2am. We only did so when he started yawning.

I can vouch for it as I was there with the group.

You will be missed, Datuk Pek Moh.