By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
When you have won the Perak Open singles 11 times, capturing triple crowns in 1958 – the first Asian to achieve this feat – you have every right to rest on your laurels or in this case, your rackets. But not so Moses Tay.
At age 87, when most octogenarians are taking things easy, watching TV or having coffee or tea with their cronies and talking about the good old days, Moses can be found in his office at his bustling family-owned Flamingo Hotel in Sitiawan, still tending to business, focused, and answering my questions with full attention. Well his eyesight and his hearing is not as good as it once was but a lifetime of discipline and training for his sport shows in his perky demeanour.
He doesn’t play tennis anymore but he still walks 12 times round the tennis court every day and plays a mean game of Ping Pong or table tennis.
Moses has much to be proud of. Aside from the 11-time Perak Open singles achievement, he can proudly lay claim to bringing home the first international win in tennis in 1957.
Teamed with Ong Chew Bee, he took down Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), then Vietnam in the 1957 Inter-Port Competition. He continued to represent Malaysia for the next 15 years, peaking with his captaincy of the National Davis Cup team from 1969 to 1971. This honour is rated by him as one of his most prized trophies amongst his other achievements.
In those days there were no financial rewards or other incentives like the game today. He played for his state and country for the sheer love of the game and considered it an honour and privilege. In recognition of his contribution he was awarded the AMN by the Agong and the AMP and PMP by the Sultan of Perak.
Moses came to tennis rather late in life at the age of 25. He began as a badminton player and had represented Perak on a few occasions. Deciding that there was no future in badminton (he played singles) he switched to tennis which in those days was quite the aristocratic game.
He began by playing in the Sitiawan Recreation Club and in the beginning people refused to play with him, considering him a novice. When his game started to pick up, people began to notice and soon they were lining up to play with the up-and-coming tennis ‘superstar’. He took to tennis like a duck to water and his rise was meteoric.
Of course talent without discipline is like a fish pond without water, and Moses had more discipline than most of the players he defeated over the years. His training regime was extremely rigorous. He was a teacher at ACS Sitiawan and at 7am he would challenge students to a backward race, giving 20 cents (enough to buy a big bowl of noodles in those days) to anyone who could beat him. 1.30pm would see him running four miles in the scorching midday sun and at 4.30pm he’d be doing 100 serves on the court. After sunset would see him skipping 1000 loops on the skipping rope followed by innumerable sets of play on the tennis court, finishing with more practice serves.
“I can accept losing given a lack of skill but it’s unforgivable to lose from a lack of stamina” said Moses. “That is why having the discipline to train hard is so important,”he added.
Moses’ sense of discipline didn’t just stay with his tennis game, he applied it in school with his students as well, as can be attested to by many an old boy and the thousands of ACS Sitiawan students who trembled under his rotan’s whack. He was one of the most feared, yet most respected, teachers and he would always preface each punishment by saying, “I do this because I love you”.
One of his students reckons that many students became successful because Moses never compromised on discipline.
Married in 1951, to Ho Ung Ging the sister of the late Dato’ Richard Ho, who bore him three sons, Moses applied the same strict standards to his sons: Lawyer Dato’ Daniel Tay; Dr Samuel Tay, a Colorectal Surgeon; and Captain Stephen Tay, an SIA commercial pilot. Misdemeanours, even trivial ones, met with prompt action from his trusty cane.
Said Dato’ Daniel Tay, the eldest son, “My Dad instilled in all three of us, the need for discipline. And it has stood us in good stead. I know that modern child rearing philosophy looks unfavourably on caning as a disciplinary measure but it certainly did us and a lot of the ACS Sitiawan boys no harm. My Dad did it with love and that makes all the difference.”
When Moses was 31, he took a break from tennis to study for an external History degree from London University. Those years were the toughest in his life, studying till midnight every day – five hours on workdays and 10 on weekends. It was his strict sense of discipline that pulled him through and when, after four years, the phone call came from his sister in Kuala Lumpur that he had passed his finals and will be receiving his BA Honours in History, he admitted that it was one of the happiest moments in his life.
The second one was when his eldest son Dato’ Daniel won the Best Baby contest at the age of 6 months. Such are the highlights of an interesting man’s life.
In 1972, Moses was made Principal of ACS Sitiawan, a post which he relished and cherished and aside from his tennis achievements, this was another highlight of his long and distinguished career. He was responsible for setting up the only Sixth Form in ACS in the district and the creditable results achieved by the students bear witness to his dedication.
He retired as Principal in 1979 after a long and illustrious career as a distinguished educator and became a housing developer for the next 15 years. He became an hotelier in 1995 and now helps to manage his own hotel, the Flamingo Hotel. He is a committed Christian and is a leader in his local church. He is still active in various organisations like the Sitiawan Maternity Hospital and ACS Sitiawan to name a few. He still plays the piano and sings in the choir, dabbles in stocks and never misses his daily ping-pong workout.
His advice to young competitive players today is NEVER GIVE UP.