Chan Fu Ho
First Rodger Scholar cum School Captain
ot much is known about one of our illustrious Old Boys, Chan Fu Ho, other than what has been gleaned from existing old school records and recollections of his contemporary, Dato Siew Nim Chee. The above is the only photograph of him circa 1940. Born in Kuala Lumpur on 4 April 1924, the infant Fu Ho was already clamouring to go to school when he was barely five years of age. His father was Chan Ping Kee, a court interpreter and an ex-Victorian to boot who had attended the High Street V.I. until 1917. At first Fu Ho received some Chinese education at a private school, but later joined the new Victoria Institution where he was a brilliant student throughout his school career. He won the Sir George Maxwell Scholarship and the Treacher Scholarship (for being first in Form Four) in 1940. His colleagues recalled him as a lad with a great personality, good in English and Science, and destined one day to win the prestigious Queen’s Scholarship for undergraduate studies in Britain in 1943. The Headmaster then was the cricket-loving Mr C.E. Gates, in his fifth year at the helm of the school; the School Captain Chew Swee Thiang, a member of the school's Football Eleven. War was already churning through Europe and in the Far East there was general nervousness about Japanese intentions. However the populace had been assured that British military would keep any invaders at bay.
The Cambridge exams were normally held in the last week of November and the first weeks of December. For many, this was the culmination of four years of secondary schooling in the V.I. The acquisition of a Cambridge School certificate was the passport to virtually guaranteed employment in British Malaya. A good certificate was also the stepping stone to matriculation and undergraduate studies in an overseas university. As Fu Ho sat in the V.I. Hall for his remaining papers of Senior Cambridge exams on December 8, 1941, he was probably unaware that the Japanese were already landing their forces near Kota Bharu and launching air raids in various parts of Northern Malaya. By the end of the week as his Cambridge answer scripts along with those of thousands of others were hurriedly packed and shipped off hopefully to be marked in England, the British battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse had been sunk in the South China Sea and Japanese forces were rolling southwards towards Kuala Lumpur. All thoughts of further education had to be shelved by everyone during the dark years of the Occupation. Their only thoughts had to be: first, escape from the oncoming Japanese forces and then survival in the thick Malayan jungles teeming with wild animals.
Shortly after the Japanese surrendered in September 1945, the V.I. reopened for afternoon sessions at the Maxwell Road School under the temporary headmastership of former V.I. teacher, Mr M. Vallipuram. V.I. pupils whose education had been interrupted by the war were recalled to resume their schooling. Double and triple promotions were the order of the day as boys were rushed through the syllabi to make up for lost time. Fu Ho, already 21 and more than 3 years overaged, taught briefly at the Maxwell Road School where the V.I. boys were temporarily housed as the V.I. building was commandeered as the Headquarters of Malaya Command. When the Victorians finally moved back to their own building on Petaling Hill in 1946, Fu Ho was appointed the first postwar V.I. School Captain. Then the long delayed results of the 1941 exams arrived - more than three years late! Fu Ho had topped the 1941 Examination with eight distinctions making him the school’s undisputed top scholar and its first ever Rodger Scholar-School Captain. Thus, he had won in succession all the coveted prizes at the V.I. of the time.
Despite his brilliant results, there were no post-secondary matriculation classes re-established as yet and so all hopes of ever landing a Queen’s Scholarship faded. Worse still, the colonial government unexpectedly decided to change the rules for the award; henceforth, the scholarship would only be for postgraduate studies. Fortunately, Fu Ho applied for and was awarded a Malayan Government Scholarship for a general science course at Raffles College, Singapore. He left the V.I. in March, 1946.
He was at Raffles College (later elevated to be the University of Malaya) for two years when he applied for and was offered a scholarship in the United States to study chemical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania in 1948. He passed his degree of B.Sc. in chemical engineering in June, 1952 and was awarded a Certificate of Distinction. Fu Ho went on to Princeton University where he read for his M. Sc. in chemical engineering the following year. He returned to Malaya in October 1953 and married Lai Swee Sum. He returned to America in January 1954 and later became an American citizen.
Last update: January 27, 2005.
Contributed by: Chung Chee Min