VETERAN scribe Datuk Wong Sai Wan breathed his last today, bringing an unexpected closure to an illustrious career which has left a vacuum in the industry, and deeply felt loss to those who knew the man.
The industry’s virtuoso, popularly known as Sai Wan, clocked 37 years on the beat, beginning his writing skills with The Star publication in the 1980s. He later moved on to Malay Mail which he helmed as editor-in-chief, until his demise.
Soon after news of his death spread, social media was a hive of activity as tributes filled the electronic news platform for Wong.
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah described Wong’s demise as a great loss to Malaysia’s world of journalism.
In the condolence message to the family, His Majesty and the Raja Permaisuri Agong expressed sadness over the demise, urging the family to remain strong during their moment of grief.
In his condolence message, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin described Wong as having played a pivotal role in shaping Malaysia’s journalism.
“Known for his humility and kindness, he was a great mentor for many past and present journalists.
“Datuk Wong Sai Wan whom I have known for many years and an epitome of quality journalism, will be greatly missed.”
Cabinet members, politicians and fellow members of the fraternity keyed their thoughts and condolences too for Wong’s family, as they reminisced their moments with the 59-year-old over the years.
“Sai Wan was a fighter, both on the news floor and out there. Steadfast when it came to the ethics of our profession, he would not bow to pressure, not from the government nor from non-editorial bosses,” Datuk Ahirudin Attan, National Press Club president and Petra News executive director, shared.
“He loved life and he loved his food. We all knew he was struggling with health issues but all he wanted to show us was his happy face, the bright side.
“On Wednesday, just after our last berbuka puasa, I got his Hari Raya greeting over the phone. Prompt when it came to things like that, year after year. I have lost a friend and Malaysian journalism has lost yet another bright spark, one of the few remaining ones.”
He added how Sai Wan had picked two canvas framed paintings by a former UiTM lecturer-turned-artist but didn’t manage to collect those two paintings.
Fellow compatriot and NPC advisor Datuk Mokhtar Hussain first got acquainted with Sai Wan when both covered the political beat during their early days of journalism.
The Bernama Chief Executive Officer said Sai Wan, one of the renowned editors in the country, had the knack for putting the tough-and-tougher question across without fear or favour.
“He was also a valuable asset for journalism workshops as he would regale budding journalists with his experience,” Mokhtar said.
The NPC’s deputy president Haresh Deol described Sai Wan as someone who loved the newsroom as much as he had his penchant for golf and good food.
“During our days in The Malay Mail, he believed in the younger generation. His passing is indeed shocking. He always remained upbeat and positive about life.”
The club’s trustee Datuk Yong Soo Heong got closely acquainted with Sai Wan during the later part of their professional years.
“As a business journo then, after I got to know him better, I found him to be a very witty and insightful person, always willing to help despite his occasional brash mannerisms.
“His knowledge on Negeri Sembilan politics and the state dialect was at his fingertips. So was national politics. He had a knack of putting complicated issues in proper light so that we all had better clarity.”
Describing Sai Wan as one of those scribes with interesting revelations at any media forum or workshop. Soo Heong said one would tend to get overshadowed sharing a stage with him.
“I didn’t mind not basking in the limelight as I had less to talk, keeping to the principle of ‘If you don’t know enough, better keep your mouth shut’”.
Sometimes candidly called the ‘small one’ (a play on words from his name), Soo Heong said his good friend would be missed as he earned the tag “a Big Man of Journalism” in his own right.
Fellow golfer L. Jairajoo said Sai Wan was passionate about the sport and a cheerful one at that both on and off the course.
“He was always one ready to chat with anyone. He will be certainly missed by the media golfing friends,” the former Bernama TV producer said.
Former colleague from their days with The Star, Joe ‘Kuda’ Fernando described Sai Wan as charitable and helpful.
“He would not decline a worthy cause and his circle of friends would not turn down his request for aid for the needy,” Fernando said.
Last respects visitation will be from 11am to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday (May, 15th and 16th), at the Xiao En Centre, Jalan Kuari, Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.
The present movement control order (MCO) standard operating procedures (SOP) allows only 50 individuals at each time, and a waiting area is available to facilitate crowd control.
The funeral will be held on Monday, May 17.