Aug 12, 2019
By Mohd Ashraf Abdullah
I first came to know Dato’ Yunus Raiss in 1995 when I was made London Correspondent by The New Straits Times.
Dato’ Yunus was then principal and proprietor of the renowned Sels College, located at Covent Garden in Central London, a place well-known among theatre lovers. The college, believe it or not, taught English to people around the world who had little or no command of the language but wanted to pursue their higher education or seek employment in Britain.
Mind boggling to many. A Melayu, who was born to an estate conductor in Batu Gajah, Perak and an illiterate until the age of 15, was teaching English, and of all places, England.
Dato’ Yunus didn’t receive early education because his father didn’t have the means to send him to school. When most of his friends were getting an education, he had to work as a tailor’s assistant to supplement his family income.
As business was booming, the tailor, himself an illiterate, realised the need to keep proper accounts and keep track of his finances. So he decided to pay for young Yunus to attend evening classes and learn some math and accounting.
It was then Dato’ Yunus grew a special kind of love for education. From an illiterate at the age of 15, he passed his Senior Cambridge (equivalent to SPM today) in just three years.
I suppose much to the regret of his employer then, Dato’ Yunus secured a scholarship to attend teachers’ training college in Kirkby, Wolverhampton. That changed his life forever.
After graduation, Yunus returned to Malaysia and taught for a bit, but later left for London again to read law.
He then went on to pursue a host of other degrees and masters’ degree (a total of 12, I later learnt). He was the first Malaysian to be appointed as a magistrate at the West London Court.
But Yunus’ first love was always the English language, and became an authority in it.
I remember vividly taking Marc Williams, with whom I shared a flat at the Paul Robeson House when I was doing my Masters Degree at SOAS, to meet Yunus.
The reason for the visit – Marc, an Englishman from Leeds, didn’t believe me when I told him that if we picked random words from the dictionary, Dato’ Yunus would be able to explain not only the meaning of the words but also their origin. After testing him with a few difficult words, which Dato’ Yunus answered easily, Marc gave up.
That’s how good Dato’ Yunus was.
I had the pleasure of writing a couple of articles about Yunus during my short posting as London Correspondent, but they were nothing compared to all those things that he had done for me.
The theatre tickets (he always managed to get them even when the ticket counters put up the “SOLD OUT” sign), the dinners, the wonderful reference he wrote for me which without doubt was THE reason why I was able to secure the prestigious British Government’s Chevening scholarship, his fatherly advice and guidance when I was struggling to complete my Masters Degree and most of all his frequent reminder that with hard work I too can succeed.
“For you are far better than anyone else and greater than your enemies”, he said to me.
Another point that I must mention is that Dato’ Yunus was a true Malaysian, refusing to give up his Malaysian citizenship despite being in England for over 50 years.
Thank you, Dato’ Yunus. It was both an honour and a privilege knowing you.
For as long as there’s life in me, I will be missing you. Sadly, I couldn’t be with you when you breathed your last earlier today.
May Allah SWT take into account your kind deeds and untiring efforts in educating the world and place your soul amongst the chosen ones.