Constance Choong receiving a rousing send-off by the students of SMK Perempuan Pudu.
By Lim Vin Tsen
At 101 years, Constance still cares for the future of young people Her life as a centenarian continues to be a source of inspiration and amazement to people with the good fortune to make her acquaintance. Not only is she hale and hearty but she would greet everyone she meets with a broad and warm smile and engages in conversation with them as if she has known them all her life. This week, Constance was in the news again when she lent her name to a scholarship fund initiated by the HELP Education Group to enable needy students to study at university. The Constance Choong Scholarship Award is open to SPM students of SMK Perempuan Pudu. It covers studies from foundation or diploma level to a bachelor’s degree in a programme of their choice at HELP.
It is launched to mark Constance’s remarkable life and her long association with SMK Perempuan Pudu in Kuala Lumpur. “My parents were very poor and my headmistress Miss Josephine Foss helped to pay my fees.
“That is why I feel very happy to be part of today’s scholarship presentation. Thank you, Dr Paul Chan and Datin Chan Kam Yoke [the founders of HELP] for your generous spirit in offering financial support to deserving students. I hope that the students in turn will follow your good example when they become adults”.
Constance was born in Kuala Lumpur in 1919 and studied for 11 years at the SMK Perempuan Pudu (then known as Pudu English Girls School – PEGS). Reminiscing about her early years at PEGS, Constance’s memory is sharp and clear, undimmed by the years.
“I joined the school in 1926 when I was 7 and studied up to senior Cambridge. I am very grateful to my headmistress Miss Josephine Foss for her help in paying my school fees and exam fees”. “Our English teacher would reward us with a sweet or chocolate if we could spell the words correctly. I always got a sweet or chocolate from her. “After working as the school clerk for one year, Miss Foss recommended me to work as a registered English teacher in the Yuk Sam Chinese mission school in Bukit Bintang Road. I taught there for 15 years before I resigned to look after my children.
“Of all the teachers who I can still remember, Miss Foss stands out. She went all out to raise funds for the development of the school. She was a very capable lady with a humble and kind personality. Indeed, she did a lot for the school”. Constance’s gratitude and devotion to the school never wavered; it continues to find expression to this day. “Two of my sisters who are now in their 80s also attended PEGS. My two daughters and two granddaughters also studied at the school. “I am very happy that Pudu English Girls school, although small and humble in the beginning with only 60-80 students in my day, has grown in numbers and in stature and has produced so many fine citizens in Malaysia and all over the world”.
The Constance Choong Scholarship Award was initiated by Datin Chan-Low Kam Yoke, an alumna of PEGS herself and currently CEO of the HELP Education Group. Datin Chan’s meeting with Constance inspired her to create the scholarship fund in her name to celebrate Constance’s remarkable life and her devotion to the school.
“I was struck by her happy disposition, high spirits and bubbly personality. She looks like she was born with a smile. She warms to you instantly. Talking to her is a positive, life-affirming experience, a celebration of friendship and the joy of living. She displays such positive energy”. Constance’s large loving family provides the source of much of Constance’s joy. She is blessed with 7 children, 12 grandchildren and 6 great granddaughters.
Although her children and grandchildren have left the house in Old Klang Road, it remains a hub of activity with birthday celebrations, Chinese New Year reunions, pot luck dinners and visits from friends and relatives.
To celebrate her 100th birthday last October, her children decided to throw a birthday bash like no other. They invited family and friends from all over the world. More than 300 guests turned up, flying in from Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore to honour Constance’s milestone birthday.
Constance has become a ‘celebrity’ in her own way, and feels at home with large crowds.
At the end of the scholarship launch at PEGS, the 300 hundred students, staff and PTA members all rose to their feet to see her off. Her show of affection and gestures of friendship were instantaneously reciprocated by the audience, so touched were they by the warmth radiating from her heart. At the school’s centenary celebrations in 2014, Constance was invited to address over a thousand people in a leading hotel, and every line she spoke was met with thunderous applause.
When asked what were the secrets to her longevity, health and happiness, she replied,”Eat in moderation, stay positive, contented and forgiving. The best vitamins are your friends”.
The first five recipients of the Constance Choong Scholarship Award.
Constance Choong (centre) with Datin Chan and Datuk Dr Paul Chan (right). PESG headmistress Datin Cheam Swee Har is second from left. Behind them are the five scholarship recipients.