George Chan: Playboy-politician, drinker-friend looks back at a mixed career

By Dana Kay

Clad all in black, former Deputy Chief Minister of Sarawak, George Chan cut a trendy but lonely figure, nursing his favourite drink, a Famous Grouse Malt Whisky as he sat in his palatial living room staring into space waiting for his party members to come over and discuss some political issues.

George, 74, has everything a man could want. Given a second chance in matrimonial life and married to a beautiful young wife, Lorna Enan Muloon, he is contented with what the Almighty has offered him so far. With four grown up daughters, all married, (one to Chief Minister’s son, Sulaiman Taib) all are successful in their own way. His only loss at the moment is his political career, a career that spanned over 50 years, longer than both his marriages and all his girlfriends.

Looking younger than his actual age, George believes that he is lucky in many things in life that includes inheriting the good genes of his parents. His mother aged 92 still plays mahjong and occasionally pokes fun at his loss during the State election last April, when he lost his long-held seat. She once asked him, “You have no one to buy you lunch anymore,” when he popped in to see her for lunch one afternoon.

A toast to ‘liberation’

George loves entertaining at his house and is generous with his guests. He would pick up the best wine or whisky to enjoy with whoever visits him. His bar corner boasts of a very wide variety of drinks from fine wine to famous brands of whisky.

Lately, guests who turned up at his house would be “toasting to liberation”, a term he uses for himself in reference to his new-found ‘freedom’ from the burden of politics.

And who is to say him wrong. After decades of grind, no doubt always in the lap of luxury, it can be a real liberation to be forced to give what can be termed an obseesion or addiction – politics. Even his good pal, Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, might share such a feeling, although that would be in his most private thoughts. For in Sarawak, men – especially strong men of politics – cannot cry. They just have to take their just deserts and carry on.

In interviews with various media, George spoke openly of life without politics. Say what you will, that he had no choice, that he brought it onto himself, the fact remains it must have been difficult for a man whose life was so hectic to suddenly retire into a life of quiet, peaceful boredom.

Before the State election, George was attending between eight to a dozen functions per day. Now, he attends to his wife and huge brood of dogs. Family friends are hoping the couple will plan for  baby next year.

SUPP, the oldest party in the State suffered the heaviest loss of 13 out of 19 seats contested. The party has now spilt into many factions, with political observers of the opinion that it is beyond salvage.

George, who still holds the position of SUPP President, had held many portfolios when he was in power. He was the Deputy Chief Minister, Tourism and Heritage Minister, Industrial Development Minister, President of SUPP and State Assemblyman for Piasau. He led such a busy life that his mobile phones which rang non-stop had to be passed to his personal assistants to attend to the calls.

A supportive wife and charity work

After losing to DAP first timer, Ling Sie Kiong, George’s phone has not stopped ringing but it is a far, far cry from his days of thunder. Life before the election and now are two different scenarios altogether. Like night and day.

But refusing to let depression set in, George is now beginning to do what he has always said he would do if he stopped being a politician – charity work. And being blessed with a supportive wife, who is also interested in charities, this has helped him to adust.

Sarawakians were surprised when Lorna agreed to shave off her hair last month to raise one million ringgit help the Sarawak Children Cancer Society. A Kelabit beauty from Bario who looks more like a Chinese and resembles the Ipoh-born movie star, Michelle Yeoh, Lorna has been married to george for 3 years. The pair may be 24 years apart in age, but they are so compatible that some friends say it is a marriage made in heaven.

How he got hitched with Lorna is anyone’s guess and he is certainly not telling. It was said that the two met when George, who was the Chairman of the Disaster Relief Committee, was overseeing the helicopter crash in 2004 when Assistant Minister Judson Sakai Tangal and six others perished in the crash in Miri.

The two became inseparable and were often spotted occasionally but their budding romance soured another of George’s arrangement. Surely, one of sarawak’s most friendly men, George was then in a relationship with Christina Foo, a 49-year old accountant. The two were said to have been together for over 12 years.

George does have a soft spot for pretty girls, or if you listen to his side of story, they are always interested in him. There were the sweet-young-things who used to ‘woo’ him but he wasn’t interested. Now he has eyes only for Lorna and insists that he has become a strictly one-woman man.

Ineffectual but amiable and not so hypocritical

Often referred to as a gentleman, George is by nature a nice man who does not bear grudges, not even against his political foes. He would ‘fight tooth and nail’ with the Opposition in the August House but once out from there, he could be buddy with them. MP for Kuching, Chong Chieng Jen can vouch for that. Once they met in Singapore and George walked over to Chong and they chatted like they were old buddies. Even recently, Chong said he would not mind sitting down having a cup of coffee with George just to shoot the breeze.

After losing the State election, George went off to Kuala Lumpur to take a break. He said he was in a shopping mall when a man carrying a huge basket called out excitedly to him. Thinking that the man could be someone from Miri, George went over to shake his hand and saw the basket was full of stationery. The man introduced himself as a Pakatan Rakyat elected representative and said that he was in the mall collecting stationery for the Orang Asli’s children.

George offered to chip in and tried to give him some cash as a donation but the Pakatan ADUN member declined. He explained to George that he had been in Miri campaigning for his comrades during the state election and wanted to help the poor Orang Ulu he met during the walkabouts. The Pakatan guy then said, “ Tan Sri, come and join Pakatan Raykat now that you have lost in BN. We won’t mind having you, you are not so bad a guy.”

Stunned, George thanked him and told him he was into semi-retirement from politics. Still that did not deter the determined Pakatan youngster, who then shoved his name card into George’s hand, telling him to think about it and call he was interested. George laughs when he recounts the incident but obviously he is touched that people generally do not see him as the same sort of ogre as Taib Mahmud.

Indeed, George could have done much more and Sarawakians do blame him for keeping quiet all these years whether Taib gave him a choice or not. But to say his life has been without achievement and contribution to the state is also inaccurate. There is a difference between him and the leaders from the MCA and Gerakan in the peninsula, who blame UMNO for their troubles. George is a bit more genuine and certainly much less hypocritical than say, Chua Soi Lek or Koh Tsu Koon.

Although SUPP is in disarray and George is blamed for it, he is adamant that come December when he leaves, at least, the party would be in a better footing than now. He has gone to Sibu to kick start his tour of duty around the State, which includes visits to branches, calling for unity and the revival of the once glorious party. Yes, it may be difficult to believe but SUPP in its hey-day was more powerful and held in greater esteem than DAP.

Nonetheless, no one can ever sit on past laurels, and this time, Georgie-boy needs more than just luck. – Malaysia Chronicle

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