KUALA LUMPUR, May 28 — Politicians, academics, media personalities and former students paid emotional tributes today to Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim, one of Malaysia’s most revered historians.
Many described the academic’s death as a great loss to the nation, a man whose work and knowledge are unparalleled.
Politicians from both sides of the divide called Khoo a priceless asset to the country’s academia, as they shared grief for the loss of a man who contributed vastly to the country’s identity.
Among them, former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak noted Khoo was among those who formulated the Rukun Negara, a set of codified values that is meant to shape the core identity of a Malaysian.
The former premier also paid homage to Khoo’s keen interest in football, a little-known public fact about the historian.
“Tan Sri Khoo will be remembered for his contributions, especially as one of the key figures who helped draft the Rukun Negara,” Najib wrote.
“He also had strong interest in football with valuable insights about the development of our national team.”
PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, also a former student of Khoo, made a similar note about the historian’s role in drafting the Rukun Negara.
“The goodwill and sacrifice of the deceased who was also a teacher of mine will forever be remembered,” Anwar wrote on his Facebook page.
“He had also played a key role in drafting the Rukun Negara, and with that his contribution will always be remembered.”
Khoo died of lung failure at 11am surrounded by his loved ones at Universiti Malaya Medical Centre. He was 82.
Khoo began his career at the University of Malaya, which has lasted over 50 years. He officially retired in 1997, but continued to have an office in the university’s History Department in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
In his teaching days Khoo was seen as a loving man, always ready to impart knowledge and guide his students to excel.
Law expert Azmi Shahrom, a former student of his who was recently appointed as an Election Commission executive council member, recalled Khoo as an assertive and principled academic who was always bold with his views.
“Professor Khoo was an academic who stood by his principles and his research,” Shahrom said in a text reply to Malay Mail.
“He was not afraid to voice his views even if many disagreed. He was from the old school of lecturers and he was kind to younger folk like myself.
“I’ll miss having him around.”
Khoo was born in Kampar, Perak, on March 28, 1937. A Universiti Malaya graduate, the man was known for his seminal works on Malaysian history.
In 2017, Khoo was awarded the 10th “Tokoh Akademik Negara” and the prestigious Merdeka Award in 2018 for his contribution.
Despite the recognition, the historian has had his fair share of controversy, among the most notable being the racially-charged debate over who founded and developed the capital city.
Yet Khoo remained a respected figure even among his critics, a testimony of his insights and intellectual prowess.
One of them, Perkasa president Datuk Ibrahim Ali, who once lashed out at Khoo for panning the idea of Ketuanan Melayu, described the historian’s death as a great loss for the Malays in particular.
“His deep historical knowledge about the MALAY LAND, the fight for Independence in 1957, and also of the Jus Soli is a testimony of his expertise which is based on truth,” Ibrahim said in a statement.
Perkasa, a Malay rights group, is often accused of political nativism. The outfit said it was founded to safeguard Malay political power, an idea Khoo disagreed with.