Penang’s longest serving private secretary to three chief ministers dies at 83

By Opalyn Mok
Ong See Fook celebrating his birthday at the Penang Chief Minister’s office last year. Next to him is current chief minister Lim Guan Eng. ― Picture courtesy of the Penang Chief Minister’s office

GEORGE TOWN, Oct 19 ― Ong See Fook, who served three Penang chief ministers as their private secretary, died yesterday aged 83.

Ong’s service in the state government lasted 61 years. He is believed to be the country’s longest-serving civil servant, having started working as a clerk in the civil service in 1956.

He served as secretary to second Penang Chief Minister, the late Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu in 1970.

He remained in that position when Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon succeeded Dr Lim.

His service continued even after the state government changed from Barisan Nasional to the then-Pakatan Rakyat pact under Lim Guan Eng, right up until his death yesterday evening.

“We are deeply saddened by his passing, it is a great loss for the office and we want to thank the family and Mr Ong for his unstinting service,” Guan Eng said today at his office while expressing his condolences to Ong’s family.

Lim said Ong fell sick and was on medical leave last month but he remained an employee right till yesterday.

“He was always with the chief minister in the office. Sometimes, he even stayed till 2am at night with me when I worked late and there will only be two of us in the office,” he said.

Koh also expressed his sadness on the passing of Ong while remembering him as “the most dedicated persons I have ever worked with”.

“He was extremely hardworking and meticulous, and sworn to confidentiality,” he said in a statement issued today.

Koh had known Ong for more than 35 years when he first entered politics in 1982 and Ong was then secretary to Dr Lim.

He recalled that by the time he assumed the chief minister’s post in late 1990, Ong was already 56 years old and Koh had arranged for him to be a contract staff under a subsidiary company of the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) so that he could continue serving in the chief minister’s office.

“By the time I left the CM’s office in 2008, See Fook was already 74 years old.  He was by then the longest serving person in any government office in the country,” he said.

Koh said Ong had served in the civil service under four chief ministers started from Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee to Dr Lim, himself and now, Guan Eng.

He said he had visited Ong in his house and in the hospital in the past few weeks after he fell ill.

“At that time, he could barely walk, yet he still talked about going back to office,” he said.

Ong was born in Batu Gajah, Perak on May 25, 1934, at Batu Gajah, Perak and studied in Sultan Yussuf School.

He leaves behind a wife, a son and a granddaughter. His wake is held at his house at 24 Cangkat Minden Jalan 12, Gelugor and his funeral will be held at the United Hokkien Cemeteries, Batu Gantong tomorrow.