IF not for Irishman Neil Joseph Ryan, the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) would not be renowned as a rugby powerhouse among Asian schools. It was this dashing man, then 30-something, better known as N.J. Ryan, who introduced the sport to the residential college students way back in 1959.
Ryan, now 80, even donned Perak colours as a three-quarter centre, after playing for MCKK’s All-Blacks team (so called as their jersey and shorts were all black, just like that of the New Zealand national team).
“I nearly died,” said Ryan. “The weather was so hot then. But eventually I got used to it.”
The sport gained momentum as the students readily accepted rugby, thanks largely to teacher-coach Leong Siew Loong, who is now 69. “The boys played great rugby,” Ryan said, “beating local teams and going on to become the best school in Southeast Asia. Along the way, we even beat some of the giant schools from Sri Lanka and Thailand.” MCKK has held an annual rugby game with Vajiravudh College of Thailand since 1961. “Of course, owing to age, many of the ex-students now play golf,” he said.
Ryan, who celebrated his 80th birthday on March 20, was the last Mat Salleh (expatriate) headmaster of MCKK, serving the institution from 1959 to 1965. Born to Irish parents, Ryan was introduced to the then Malaya when he was recruited by the British Military Administration to serve here during the Emergency period in 1948-49 to fight communist terrorists. When he returned to England, he pursued a degree in history at Bristol University, London. Upon graduation, he was among three Britons who returned to Malaya in 1953 to serve with the Colonial Education Service.
“My first posting as a teacher was at Anderson School in Ipoh for two years. There, I was fascinated with rugby which was promoted aggressively by its headmaster G.E.D. Lewis, who later got posted to Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur,” said Ryan, now an Australian citizen residing in Melbourne. After his stint at Anderson, Ryan was posted to MCKK, first as a teacher and later as its headmaster.
“One of the great things I observed at MCKK was the speed at which things were done and the splendid facilities. Having studied at a boarding school myself in England, I was able to comprehend the situation there.”
MCKK had some of the best teachers in the country, thanks largely to the government recognising it as a federal institution. Ryan left Malaya in 1966 and took to writing books, among them The Last Expatriate (on life with MCKK) and several historical editions. He went on to become the managing director of publishing company Longman, which produced many school textbooks.
In 2005, Ryan was a guest of MCKK during its centenary celebrations. Asked how he felt as an octogenarian, Ryan said: “I have lived a fruitful life. I guess I have reached this far by delegating some of my duties and not over-stretching myself by attempting to do everything.” In appreciation, 12 former students of Ryan, who played rugby for MCKK’s All Blacks team, threw a belated birthday bash in his honour at the Carnaval Churrascaria Brazillian restaurant in Damansara Jaya, Petaling Jaya, on Wednesday.
Present was Ryan’s Hong Kong-born wife Josephine, 62, corporate figure and entrepreneur Tan Sri Megat Najmuddin Megat Khas, 66, and wife Chong Kheng Mee, 63, the restaurant’s business partner. Former MCKK headboy and 1964 rugby captain Datuk Dr Abdul Aziz Mahmood, 66, had this to say of Ryan: “He was like a father to us, shaping our lives and teaching us to be leaders. He had such a great personality”.
Megat Najmuddin said: “He knows his 600-odd students not only by sight but amazingly could call them by name.” Also attending were Leong, Abdul Halil Abdul Jabar, 66, Datuk Zulkifly Mustapha, 63, Azizan Abas, 64, Datuk Annuar Maaruf, 64, Zain Yusoff, 65, Ahmad Burhan Mokhtar, 63, Datuk Ahmad Anuar Mohamad, 65, Muslim Mohamad, 65, Azizan Abdul Razak, 66, and Rozalli Noordin, 66.
Ryan is expected to be bestowed an award by a state ruler next week.
Source: NST Website, 15/04/2010.
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