KUALA TERENGGANU: He will be turning 81 on March 12, and may be feeling a bit “weighed down” by the continuing stream of accolades bestowed upon him over his many years.
But Rear-Admiral (Rtd) Tan Sri K. Thanabalasingam is taking it all in his stride, including the distinction of being Malaysia’s oldest living and longest-serving former navy chief.
“Bob Thana”, as he is fondly known in the uniformed services, is much respected as the country’s first local chief of the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN).
“At this stage in my life, you may say people like me are living on borrowed time. I guess it is my close circle of friends and family that keep me going.
“I struggle a bit, here and there, owing to age and health concerns. But otherwise, I am happy with what the Lord Almighty has blessed me with,” said the bachelor, who was RMN chief in 1967 at age 31, and retired prematurely at 40 in 1976 (along with the country’s first local Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) chief Air Vice-Marshal (Rtd) Tan Sri Sulaiman Sujak at age 42).
Socially, Thana is as active as a man half his age, especially in diplomatic and business circles.
He is a member of the prestigious “Chiefs Circle”, reserved for retired tri-services and armed forces chiefs; and is life patron of the Retired RMN Officers Association and the annual RMN Deepavali Night.
“Many still poke fun at me for my over-indulgence in golf, resulting in the putter becoming my walking stick now.
“But it is all in good jest, as I enjoy catching up with many of my comrades during social events, including the monthly Armed Forces Veterans Rendezvous (at the Royale Chulan Hotel in Kuala Lumpur recently).
“It is saddening to know that many have passed away, as we had enjoyed good company over the years,” said Thana, one of the first batch of nine cadets to graduate from the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, England, in 1958.
Two of the latest honours Thana received were from his alma mater for ‘Exemplary and Outstanding Service to the Nation’ by the Victoria Institution (VI) Old Boys’ Association; and the ‘Anugerah Sri Mutiara’ by the RMN Ex-Servicemen’s Association.
Retired Indonesian Army Lt Gen Prabowo Subianto Djojohadikusumo, a VI old boy, and RMN chief Admiral Tan Sri Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin, presented the awards to Thana at separate functions.
Two other RMN veterans were also bestowed with the ‘Anugerah Sri Mutiara’. They are Lt (Rtd) Melan Suradi, 95, who is the oldest RMN sailor alive; and Lt Cdr (Rtd) Mohd Sharif Kalam, 80, who hoisted the Jalur Gemilang during Merdeka Day at Stadium Merdeka on Aug 31, 1957.
Last, but not least, on Thana’s list of achievements is his role in assisting the country during the dispute with Singapore over Pulau Batu Puteh (Pedra Branca) at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands, in 2013.
Thana even had a close brush with death in Sept 2015 when three parang-wielding robbers attacked him and his faithful butler, Phee Kok Yan, 72, at his Ukay Heights home in Ampang, Selangor.
Phee was slashed on the head, which required a dozen stitches, while Thana fought off the other robber by hammering him on his head with his walking stick.
Clearly, and luckily for us, Thana is not going anywhere any time soon.