Not a 'big datuk', but still thousands bid him farewell

LOVED BY MANY: Big John was a big man not just for his size, nor for his wealth or status in society, but big in the way he had touched people.


    Jul 06, 2015

    Not a 'big datuk', but still thousands bid him farewell

    THEY came by the dozens to the hospital room on June 28. At any one time, there were about 50 to 60 people here to see John as he lay dying from cancer. Normally, only two visitors were allowed at one time in this ward.

    But the staff at this busy Kuala Lumpur hospital seemed to understand that Big John, a large man with a habitual wide grin, deserved an exception. He was a big man not just for his size, nor for his wealth or status in society, but big in the way he had touched people.

    People dropped plans, dinner engagements and even flights to come and see John. One person flew in from Singapore to see him one last time.

    At the Nirvana funeral parlour on June 30, a staff member said she had never seen such a large crowd in her 20 years there. Incredulous, she asked what John did for a living, probably assuming he was a "big datuk".

    "Well," his brother Matt said, "he arranged chairs." Yes, he really did. And he arranged them with excellence.

    As the operations chief in a training company, John was the supporter behind the scenes who ensured everything was tip-top. He also supported people, in his own way.

    He was uplifting, as he was naturally cheerful and encouraging, with his raw, plain-spoken honesty. He came with no hidden agenda, not seeking credit or praise for himself. He was real, and he cared. And for that, people adored him.

    "John made living life look easy," said his friend, Chee Yeong. "He had a quiet strength. He was a big guy with a big heart."

    At his funeral on July 1, thousands came to pay their last respects. Like Matt, who runs a training company, he made a difference to people by giving in some way, if only by sharing himself. Coming from the heart, he often didn't have to say much. His grin and laughter were enough to light up a room.

    They say that the way to live your life is to know how you want to be remembered when you die.

    To write your life plan, write your own obituary. Perhaps those external markers of success that matter now might not be so important. After all, there is no endpoint to material gain, or comparing yourself with others. Acts that move people resonate more deeply. And living our life authentically brings out the best in us. One of the greatest regrets for people on their deathbeds is not living the life they truly wanted.

    "The more we have made our lives meaningful, the less we regret at the time of death," the Dalai Lama wrote in his essays on living and dying.

    "Without awareness of death, you are obsessed with wealth, status and fame, you barely flinch when committing negative actions."

    In an age when we live with death less than ever, because we are living longer than at any time in history, I think we tend to forget the shadow of death and how quickly the hours, days, months and years of life can disappear.

    It's too easy to forget that we come into this world with nothing, and leave with nothing. All that really lives on after we die is the way we touch people.

    When my father died last year, hundreds of people visited my family's home. As a family, we had little time to grieve privately, but I realised my father didn't just belong to us, but also to all the people he had touched as a surgeon and as a teacher to young doctors.

    Many visitors shared a story or two. There were mothers who shed tears, recalling how my father had saved their child's life, surgeons who shared tales of how he pushed them to excel, while others remembered him for the principles he staunchly lived by.

    After hearing these stories one night, my brother said to me: "Wow, he touched a lot of people's lives." In my father's death, we saw his legacy.

    And that is a measure of a life well-lived: the difference we make to other people. It doesn't take extraordinary acts to do this.

    A good measure of human kindness and love go a long, long way. And sometimes, just being real is all it takes.


    In memory of John Voo, January 1973 - June 2015.