My dad is 86. To this day, he continues to be one of my greatest teachers. Just two days ago, our Alma Mater recognised his many years of selfless service by making him the proud recipient of the “2022 Outstanding Paulian Award”. Dad was both surprised and humbled.
Similarly, on his 86th birthday back in April, Badminton World Federation had recognised his significant contributions to the sport of badminton through a two page writeup in its e-zine. Another unsolicited recognition that came out of the blue and brought joy to a man who is enjoying a quiet and well-deserved retirement in the sleepy town of Seremban, Malaysia. Retired, but definitely not forgotten.
The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men, the conviction and the will to carry on. —Walter Lippman
I was so happy for him knowing he totally deserved it. The recognition also inspired me to think more deeply about his leadership legacy. You see, whilst my Dad has always served with love, commitment and distinction, he was always more comfortable serving in the shadows of another leader.
The banner they flashed up during the recognition award summarises his leadership style – “A quiet, efficient man. A born organiser”. Not the classical charismatic leader who thrives in the limelight. And yet, here he is. Receiving heartfelt appreciation well past the time he contributed.
A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. —Lao Tzu
I was equally honoured to be invited to contribute with the write-up about his life and legacy the Old Paulians’ Association were publishing to celebrate the occasion. I share this with you below to both honour my extraordinary dad and with the hope that you will take inspiration from it.
Some of you may feel you do not possess the personality or “gift of the gab” to be a leader. This is especially dedicated to you. Know that the highest level of leadership – defined by Jim Collins as the Level 5 leader – is characterised by those with two seemingly paradoxical traits – humility and will.
The most powerfully transformative executives possess a paradoxical mixture of personal humility and professional will. They are timid and ferocious. Shy and fearless. They are rare—and unstoppable – Jim Collins
2022 Outstanding Paulian of the Year – Francis Siow
Francis Siow came to this world on the seventh day of April 1936 in the town of Seremban in the state of Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. He was the youngest of seven children.
Having lost three of his brothers to illness before his birth, his parents named him “Ah Kiew” (“dog” in the Chinese Hakka dialect) with the hope this would endow him with the resilience of this wonderful creature. Even at the ripe young age of 86, Francis continues to epitomise this – possessing an energy and spirit that most of his juniors would envy.
[Fig. 1-1] Dad, Mum and dear friend Mr Kenneth Kulasingham at the Awards ceremony
Growing up in Java Lane, he remembers a simple yet happy childhood. This in spite of the experience of living through the Japanese occupation of Malaya during the Second World War. His mother was instrumental in shaping Francis’ principles and values. She instilled in him the virtues of Roman Catholic stoicism – a strong work ethic driven by the intent to serve – and the love of family, principles that would further be reinforced through his Paulian schooling and teaching years.
Francis started his Paulian journey in Primary One in June 1945 after the Second World War and completed his Cambridge School Certificate (the equivalent of what was subsequently known as the “O”-Levels) in November 1953. A highly engaged student, he contributed as a Prefect and represented the school in both football and hockey. In the 1953 edition of the “Paulian Magazine”, Frank, as he was popularly known in school, was recognised as one of the “Leaders of the Year” for his contribution as President of the A.D.C. The writeup recognises him thus – “A quiet, efficient man, a born organizer who threw himself into every aspect of his work… the success of which can be attributed to him and his ‘live-wire’ council.”
Unlike others who stress and deliberate for ages about choosing the right profession after school, Francis’ decision to become a teacher was a simple one. On his last day at school, his then Headmaster, Rev. Brother Casimir approached him and asked if he would like to be a teacher. His immediate response – “Sure, why not?” It just seemed to be a natural progression for him and the best way of expressing gratitude to his wonderful teachers and the blessing of the Paulian education and ethos. The kind principal gave him RM$50 to buy himself two pairs of long whites, shirts and a pair of black shoes and that’s how his career started.
He exemplified the Paulian motto “Virtute et Labore” (virtue through labor) to what some might say, the extreme. Three months into his tenure as a “teacher on trainer-wheels”, Brother Casimir asked him why he hadn’t collected his pay checks from the staff office. His innocent response – “I get paid???” This from a man who to that date had never had a nickel in his pocket nor felt the need for one. That’s how a distinguished 34-year teaching career, founded on gratitude – started – one that spanned from 1954 to 1988, eighteen of them at his alma mater.
It was a career that was both full and fulfilling both in and out of school. In the classroom, he taught English and Mathematics and served as a PE and Sports Master. From 1960-1971, he served as the School’s Sports Secretary, coaching in badminton, football and athletics.
Even with the significant commitment that comes with bringing up four sons, who he aspired to send through overseas education in Australia, his devotion to a life of service extended well beyond his family and the school boundaries. And beyond his retirement as a teacher. He served the Visitation Church of Seremban in various Religious and Charity related organisations over a period of 45 years and was the Jaycees International National Secretary-General in 1976. His selfless service to the Old Paulian’s association, school and community was recognised in 2002 when he was given the award of “La Sallian of the Year”. The number on his OPA Life Membership badge reads “00012”. Inspired by life events, Francis elevated awareness of Mental Health and provided empowerment and support to carers through service as the Founding President of CARENS (Negeri Sembilan Mental Health Carers’ Association) in 2005.
[Fig. 1-2] Dad receiving “20002 La Sallian of the Year award”
He was passionate about the sport of badminton and served the fraternity with distinction for 64 years from 1957 to 2021. In 1983, he became Malaysia’s first Badminton World Federation (BWF) Certificated Umpire. In August 2001, the Asian Badminton Championship published an article in its “ABC in Perspective” magazine titled “Asia Salutes A Technical Giant” to recognise his service as one of the game’s most highly respected technical officials. On his 86th Birthday in 2022, the BWF fraternity sent him a surprise birthday greeting in the form of a write-up in their magazine titled “Francis Siow: A Lifetime in Badminton”. In it, Torsten Berg, Chairman of the BWF Court Officials Committee writes “Francis Siow was a top-class BWF Certificated Umpire, a BWF Certificated Referee, BWF and Badminton Asia Assessor and Course Conductor, but first and foremost, he was by nature a teacher and mentor. More than a generation of Asian Technical Officials was trained by Francis and owe their career partly to him.”
Throughout the many decades in the game, this humble man, driven purely by the love of the sport, service and friendship circumvented the globe many times over, officiating, teaching, assessing or coaching at tournaments ranging from two-star championships to the Thomas, Uber and Sudirman Cups, the Olympics, World series and six-star events. His commitment to helping youth optimise their potential led him to continue coaching for another 29 years at St Paul’s even after retiring as a teacher.
Francis’ list of achievements and awards are too long to spell out here and knowing the man, he would not want us to dwell on these today. The irony is that he never served for the recognition but simply because he thought that that was what we were brought to this world to do. His motto is simple “Do what you love and find joy through what you do”. In the course of that, his most cherished blessings of his journey would be the more than 62-year adventure he’s had with his bride, Rose (the silent hero who remains a constant source of love, support and encouragement for him through this journey), his four sons and nine grandchildren all who reside in Sydney, and the many friendships he continues to cultivate across the globe and lives he’s touched and learned with.
[Fig 1-3] My dad with the silent hero in his life – Mum – and his 9 grandchildren
He is, however, grateful and humbled by being recognised today, as Outstanding Paulian of the Year 2022. His life is a reminder to all of us that simply by doing “what seems right, not what’s easy” with integrity, passion and commitment, what we weave into the lives of others is what’s most meaningful and permanent.