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Obituary: Lieutenant Colonel (R) Fathol Zaman Bukhari

It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we mourn the passing of our founding editor, Lt-Col (R) Fathol Zaman Bukhari on September 21 at the age of 72.

Hailing from Parit Buntar, Fathol served with the Malaysian Army for 30 years before his retirement in January 1998.

His prowess on the battlefield also translated into writing as he was the editor of the army journal among others during his years of service.

In April 2005, he founded the Ipoh Echo with two other individuals as the pioneering trio shared a common desire to articulate their thoughts via the print media without fear or favour.

The country’s only community newspaper, by definition and orientation, had its first issue come out in print form on January 1, 2006.

Helming the editorial column and also most cover stories in earlier years, Fathol had left an immeasurable footprint on the sands of time for the community.

Centred around issues of concern in the local community and the nation, his insights were noted for being principled, hard-hitting and critical yet balanced, well-researched and empowering. 

Thus, his fearless voice brimming with literary flair resonated with readers, amassing avid followers who have been reading every piece since his first.

Only seeking to serve the community, he had written on the good, the bad and the ugly. From highlighting any inadequacy and inefficiency of public administration to celebrating everyday heroes, the recurring themes in his pieces include unity, diversity, equality, meritocracy and more.

The leader kept soldiering on despite it all, be it threats from those who could not accept the truth, the declining trend of the print media industry, his own advancing years, persisting knee pain or when this not-for-profit entity hardly broke even many a time.

In fact, Fathol delivered the copies himself by driving around the city to hand out the papers by hand in the early days.

Under his leadership, its circulation ballooned to 15,000 copies from a modest print-run of 5,000 copies, reaching a readership as high as 100,000 inclusive of online readers in addition to over 1,000,000 online hits.

In July 2020, he retired from his position as the editor and remained on the directorial board in an advisory capacity. 

Ipoh Echo team members whose lives Fathol touched offer anecdotes in tribute to this remarkable man.

 

SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

I met Fathol in early 2009. I was invited by Dato K.K. Lim who had decided to support the Ipoh Echo financially as the paper was floundering from insufficient funds to keep going. All I was told by Dato KK was, “Get in there and do something!”.

I had no history in Ipoh, and to most of the staff of Ipoh Echo I was a total stranger and worse still, I was a “socialite”, mixing with the Who’s Who in Ipoh. Fathol had no idea that I started my working life straight from University as a journalist with the Straits Times in Singapore and subsequently moved to the then popular Asia Magazine which was circulated throughout Asia.

I spent the first year walking on eggshells. I did not want to tread on anybody’s toes but Fathol was the perfect gentleman. He left me to my own devices which was to write a food column on all the wonderful places to eat in Ipoh, a subject which is dear to my heart and which I still do. And slowly we developed a trust and working relationship.

Fathol was the perfect avuncular boss, caring, solicitous and took each and every new staff member and intern under his wing. And I witnessed the devotion that all the staff in the Echo afforded him. His advice even after his retirement was never intrusive and ever gentle for that was the man that he was.

You shall be missed Fathol. Rest in Peace. 

 

Rosli Mansor Ahmad Razali

14 years’ memories of service under the leadership of Lt-Col. Fathol Zaman Bukhari started to linger one by one after the receival of a heartbreaking news. He whom I called my mentor went peacefully to the side of God on 21st September 2021.

Ipoh Echo is a tabloid newspaper that started in 2007 and at the beginning of my career with Ipoh Echo, I was originally appointed as a graphic designer. As my passion in journalism deepened, the late Mr. Fathol opened the opportunity and without hesitation, I jumped at it with excitement as I would begin the journey of achieving my dream ambition. I am so grateful, as I had the opportunity to work with a great person, open minded and widely experienced and who was among the main founders of Ipoh Echo, Fathol Zaman Bukhari.

He was a critical thinker and a genius in expressing his opinions through the Editorial desk’s column. His writing was sometimes bold, cynical and transparent, however it meant no harm but to make us ponder and as a result, his writing often gets attention and sometimes becomes controversial. 

That is the purpose of the media, instilling thoughts and educating the readers. The sharpness of his writing is unabashed in conveying opinions from a variety of different perspectives. He had hoped that various societal issues could be resolved and addressed by the responsible bodies.

His assertive leadership and team working environment regardless of racial differences is greatly admired. This is an attitude born from the mold of his experience of serving in the military for 30 years, applied in the world of journalism.

Despite him being a former soldier, never once did he raise his voice and every problem that arose was solved with maturity through the professionalism in him.

Still, he often voiced to me his concerns for the Malays who were far behind in creating success. Not all, but still, there are a few. He did not want ideological differences to be an obstacle to self-improvement. He always shared with me that living in harmony would create self-excellence that can bring good to all.

His retirement in journalism was during the COVID-19 pandemic around June 2020, which did little to bring his frustration to developments during the unstable administration of the country. Nevertheless, he remained as an advisor to our subsequent writings until the very last moments of his life.

Rest in peace Lt-Col Fathol Zaman Bukhari, may your soul be showered with blessings by Allah swt. We will continue the legacy for the sake of our beloved nation. Al Fatihah.

 

SH Ong

I came for my interview in Ipoh Echo (IE) after my retirement in 2007 with anticipation after hearing that the editor was a retired no-nonsense army colonel. My anxiety dissipated the minute I stepped into his office when Lt Colonel Fathol Zaman Bukhari stood up to give me a firm handshake. What was supposed to be an interview transpired into a chit-chat between two “old friends”. Two “old friends” indeed we were when I later found out that we were born in the same year. I was consequently offered the job of Administrative Assistant, a post which I still hold today and my journey began with IE except for 2 years when I disappeared to do something else.

During these few years under Col. Fathol, as I used to address him, I have always held the colonel with great respect. He was a man with great integrity, considerate, understanding and a fair person whom I consider more friend than boss. His editorial pieces in IE were highly respected and appreciated by his “fans”. He had written without fear or favour and always stood by what he said. This was the kind of colonel we read of, a true friend and a formidable foe! It was a pity that he decided to retire from active writing recently and indeed a bigger loss to Ipoh Echo and the community as a whole, with his recent demise on 21 September, 2021. May Colonel Fathol, a good friend and mentor R.I.P. 

 

Tan Mei Kuan

There are many firsts in life that we never forget.

“Why are your fingers so cold?” 

These were his first words to me after an introductory handshake as this girl who just finished her final academic semester started her first job back in March 2015 –  in a field completely outside of her major.

He preferred to call me by my middle name, an address which deviated refreshingly from what I was used to, and the rest of my newly-acquainted colleagues soon followed suit.

Meanwhile, he was fondly known as Colonel or Sir at the office. Being of the same age as my own father, he became a father figure to me before I knew it.

I began to learn first-hand all the ins and outs of the journalism field – from the right date format, vocabulary, story flow to a journalist’s credibility – under his active supervision.

With the wordsmith’s ever-patient guidance, I eventually managed to produce my first piece of news, announcement, special feature, advertorial and even cover story.

Along the way, in the first year alone, he shared my joy of graduating university, getting a driving license, affording my own car and experiencing my first international flight on a work assignment.

His door was always open, literally and figuratively. For instance, he was an editor who would stand up for his staff, especially when we were faced with the many mistreatments that came with the nature of the job.

Close friends outside of work who had been hearing plenty about him from me were constantly envious as this superior of mine was in stark contrast with their often indifferent ones. Dotted with hilarious moments of him being forgetful at times, it seemed to them like there was never a dull moment. Indeed.

Come rain or shine, he would just be a text or a call away. Otherwise he would be sending me cheers in the form of videos of humorous skits with cheeky notes like: “This girl in the video looks like you!” 

Former colleagues would discover that they could never search for another authentic employer like him.

Former interns would express that their internships here were way more fun than their peers’.

I would find that I had been blessed with a mentor that cannot be replaced.

Thanks a ton Colonel, for the years of many firsts.

 

Chris Teh

Lt-Col Fathol Zaman Bukhari, or “Sir”, as I loved to address him affectionately… I could never thank him enough for opening the doors of Ipoh Echo to a formerly wandering soul like myself.

As an already renowned political columnist for our local news publication, I’ve had my fair share of imagination, wondering how and what Sir would look like, given the fact that he was a part of the military force.

When I first met him during an interview, he did come across as a formidable man. Behold my impression, he turned out to be a kind-hearted, humorous and generous person who never hesitated to help me in times of need. One of a kind indeed.

My time with Sir was only for two whole years. It might’ve seemed short, but I quickly grew to absolutely love and care for him, more like a father figure, mainly because he was just such an approachable person.

Never once did he discourage me from doing what I want to do. As such, he became a large motivator for me to always improve my news writing skills, not to mention being the reason for me to stay in the field of journalism, which I subsequently came to absolutely love, thanks to Sir.

To say I’m proud to have worked with him is an understatement. I’m the happiest person alive today, because of him.

Even though his being is no longer on Earth, his spirit will stay alive in my very heart and soul until the end of time.

May you rest in peace, Sir. You’ll be dearly missed by all of us here and tons of Ipohites whose hearts you had touched so deeply.

 

Gisele Soo

The first time I met him was during an interview for an internship position. Talking to him surprisingly made me less nervous. 

He was more than just an employer to me, he was like a mentor, a teacher and a grandfather with a lot to share. 

He would reminisce about the days in the army with me, it’s like every time he shared a story, a box inside me was unlocked and it would help me develop a fresh perspective on things. 

Despite the internship lasting only three months, it was an important milestone to me. He had taught me countless lessons, be it about work or life. 

He had always reminded me that we are all the same regardless of our ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. We are all differently the same.

He almost never let me walk out of his room (after a chat/work) empty handed; he would share gifts like postcards, snacks, a book, papers for me to write on and even a pen with me. 

The three months were over too soon, time sure does fly when you are having fun. I thought I would be too heavy-hearted to leave, so I stayed until today (I am glad I did).

He will always be in my heart. Always.

 

Jia Huey

I only had the chance to work with Colonel Fathol for about a month or two, as he had announced his retirement soon after I joined IE. 

Yet despite that, he had been extremely welcoming and courteous towards me, many times going out of his way to make sure I felt welcomed within the company. He had a great sense of humour, jolly in a way I did not expect. He was highly respected and very loved among the team, and I easily understood why. 

He had helped me greatly even post-retirement, and I owe him much gratitude for that. 

It was only for a brief span of time, but it had been an utmost pleasure to have met your acquaintance, Sir. May you rest in peace. 

 

 

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One Comment

  1. It is with great sadness that I have read of his passing. I first met him when I was the CEO of PCSH. He was a thorough gentleman and a good friend. I live in New Zealand now so my contact with him remained on WhatsApp and we shared much over the years. We communicated daily but he hadn’t been replying my messages lately so I thought that something was amiss and now I know. I will miss dearly the chats that we used to have, they were frank and quite candid at times. He was not one to mince his words. It’s a great loss to society and I have lost a true friend. May his soul Rest In Peace. May the angels keep him company till we meet again.

    Rajindar Singh
    Auckland, NZ

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