GEORGE TOWN, Oct 22 — It’s the oldest English school in Southeast Asia, and many who walked through the corridors of Penang Free School were moulded into some of the nation’s illustrious sons.
Yesterday as the school, also known as Old Frees, celebrated its bicentenary many of its former students returned to commemorate the occasion.
PFS owes it hallowed existence to the vision of the Anglican colonial chaplain of the Prince of Wales Island, Reverend Robert Sparke Hutchings.
His contributions towards education in Malaysia can be best judged by how PFS had matured into one of the premier education institutions in Malaysia.
In 1920, the federal government took over the administration of the school.
The word “Free” in the school’s name was widely misunderstood by the public as a school which provided free education for all, but instead it was a school for everyone, regardless of race or religion.
Those who studied in the school included members of royal families.
PFS carrieds the slogan “as a school for Scholars, Sportsmen and Gentlemen” and it has truly reflected this in the icons it produced.
Among them were first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, actor Tan Sri P. Ramlee and the second Penang chief minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu and many more.
Raja of Perlis, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Tuanku Syed Putra Jamalullail, and his wife Raja Perempuan of Perlis Tuanku Tengku Fauziah Tengku Abdul Rashid arrived at the school accompanied by Yang DiPertua Negri Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas with his wife Toh Puan Majimor Shariff, PFS principal Omar Abdul Rashid and PFS’s Board of Governors chairman Datuk Abdul Rafique Abdul Karim.
Some 5,000 Old Frees came from all over the country to celebrate the legacy of the school.
Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin, an Old Free himself, said he was proud to be a part of the 200 years of legacy and lauded the teachers who had worked hard and taught the students until they became successful.
“Initially the school fees were only charged for those coming from wealthy families while the others were exempted from paying any, preparing a platform for everyone to learn here,” he said in his speech.
He later planted a time capsule and a tree in the school compound.
Rafique said he was proud to be among the Old Frees and had taken up the role as chairman since 2008.
“The school has not only survived 200 years, but also two World Wars. The Frees spirit must carry on for many more years to come,” he said.
Omar highlighted the achievements of the students in recent years both in academic and co-curriculum activities.
Pos Malaysia Berhad (Pos Malaysia) launched PFS’s own stamp series to commemorate the anniversary which will be available at post offices nationwide.
Its Group chief executive officer Datuk Mohd Syukrie Mohd Salleh said in a press release the company was honoured to be given the chance to be a part of the historic celebration by issuing the stamp entitled “Penang Free School — 200 Years of Excellence”.
A complete set of the stamps inclusive of all philatelic products is available for RM71.45 each.
Loh Keng Jin, 45, who studied at PFS from 1984 to 89, said he was happy that the friendship he developed while studying there had survived the course of time.
“I met a lot of great people, intelligent people, smart people, all kinds of people during my studies here,” said the senior operations manager of a factory here.
“Thanks to technology, I was able to keep in touch with my schoolmates and seeing them here was a happy moment indeed.”
Head of Forensic Medicine in Penang Hospital, Datuk Dr Zahari Noor, 54, was also a former PFS student.
He said he had many unforgettable memories when he studied there from 1975 to 79.
“Back then I stayed at Butterworth and I was always late for school. I will be standing on the stage, embarrassed, but looking back it was indeed a sweet and naughty one,” he said.
The Old Frees attended the anniversary dinner at the school field yesterday evening.
Earlier, at a memorial ceremony at the Protestant cemetery in Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah about 100 people observed a minute’s silence in Hutchings honour.
They included former students and teachers who attended the service conducted by Bishop Charles Samuel.