His wealth, power and influence were immeasurable, and his good works can be seen even today in his beloved Penang.
One of Penang’s most significant personalities is also, paradoxically, one of the least known to the younger generation, despite his vast range of contributions to domestic economics, society and politics. The Penang-born rubber tycoon Heah Joo Seang (连裕祥, 1899–1962) has been described as controversial, chivalrous, intelligent and energetic. Whether as a rubber magnate, a local protagonist during the Japanese Occupation period, a patron or a politician, he assessed the risks and took them on, with varying degrees of success. In both business and in politics, Heah adhered tenaciously to high standards, driven by fortitude and a determination to learn from experience and emerge stronger if not wiser. He was generous as well, donating to charities including the St Xavier’s Institution, the Han Chiang School, the Penang Chinese Swimming Club and the leper colony.
Fortitude: The Life and Times of Heah Joo Seang represents lawyer/author Pamela Ong’s third biography – the first was of her father Dr. Ong Chong Keng, entitled Blood and Soil, published in 1995. Four years later, she paid tribute-of-sorts to Datuk Onn Ja’afar with One Man’s Will. With Fortitude, the author hopes to redress the paucity of available literature on Heah and with a little luck, accord him a niche in the pantheon of illustrious Penangites. Incidentally, Heah and Onn Ja’afar crossed paths (if they didn’t cross swords) during the unfortunate faux pas of the Independence of Malaya Party affair.
As with her previous autobiographies, Ong trained her keen sense of research, reflection, analysis and conclusions on events that are known to have happened and extrapolated these into her writings. Working closely with Heah’s relatives and a British researcher for some three years, Ong disclosed that she was fully aware that her essays could sometimes sound risqué and even controversial, and her projections even more so. Whichever way you approach it, Fortitude will definitely not be your run-of-the-mill tribute. Fortitude, the first biography ever of this worthy historical personality, is available from Areca Books.
In recognition of Heah’s contributions to Penang, a road in Tanjung Bungah has been named after him.
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