By Jerry Francis
Veteran press photographer, Thomas Wong Tuck Keong, and I had gone through “thick and thin” for the greater part of our careers in the press.
Therefore his passing came as a shock to me as he was an active person. Just two weeks earlier, Tuck Keong and his wife were guests at my golden wedding anniversary celebration at a local hotel. And I had ensured that he and his wife were seated around the same table with one of our former editors-in-chief and old friend, Mr P.C. Shivadas, and other veteran journalists.
Tom (Tuck Keong) at a forward Royal Thai Army’s artillery base in South Thailand in 1977
When welcoming the guests, I had also mentioned his presence and briefly spoke about our experiences during the Turbulent Years in Perak. Little did I realise that it would be my last mention of our “Tom and Jerry” venture in his presence, but now I am glad that I had given him that last respect and honour that night.
Tuck Keong and I were teamed up when I was transferred from Kuantan to the New Straits Times’ Ipoh Bureau in 1973. He was then a rookie photographer.
Our “Tom and Jerry” adventure during the height of the Turbulent Years in Perak from 1973 to 1989 had been both exciting and dangerous. Through those years, we were often with the troops on practically every security operation conducted in Perak and in South Thailand.
We also accompanied top military commanders on their inspections of the security forces in remote jungle outposts.
That was how we were dubbed as “Tom and Jerry” – after the popular cartoon duo, by members of the security forces and friends, as we were often seen in their midst.
Although we did not bear arms to fight for “King and Country”, we did our best to boost the morale of the troops and to bring to the general public their hardships and sacrifices through our reports and photographs.
As a dedicated press photographer, Tuck Keong would often dash back no matter how far to ensure that his rolls of film could be processed and ready for printing. If we had to stay at a location overnight and continue to cover an incident, he would get to the nearest town where a taxi could be found to rush the rolls of film to our bureau in Ipoh.
Perhaps, one of Tuck Keong’s most memorable moment was to come face-to-face with the notorious Chin Peng, secretary-general of the Malayan Communist Party, who was in Betong in December, 1989, to supervise the arrangements for the Hatyai Peace Accord that ended 40 years of conflict.
“I had expected to see a fearsome terrorist leader, after hearing all about him from the time when I was in school,” he once told me. “But, all those impressions of him defused when I came face-to-face with him.
“Instead, I saw a cheerful man with a broad grin wearing a bush jacket and a cap. He appeared like a Chinese businessman,” he said.
About 10 years ago, the 64-year-old Tuck Keong underwent surgery at the National Heart Institute (IJN) and had been on medication ever since.
He was having his bath on the night of October 31 when he collapsed. Paramedics performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for about 30 minutes, but he did not regain consciousness and was pronounced dead.
He leaves behind wife Boey Sou Ying, 55, and two sons, Vincent, 29, and Kevin, 25.