DEATH comes like a thief. One does not know precisely when it might strike. Datuk George Chin Kok Min, better known as Mingo the artist, did not get to experience the countdown at midnight to welcome the New Year.
He passed away peacefully around 8.45pm on New Year’s Eve in an ambulance on the way from his home in the Luyang suburb of Kota Kinabalu to the Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital 2 (QEH2) at Damai, a short distance away.
He was experiencing breathing difficulties when his family decided on the move. His wish was not to die in a hospital. He was proclaimed dead on arrival.
Thus, Borneo has lost one of the island’s most outstanding artists of our time.
George Chin developed his passion for art and painting as a youth and was generous in helping others who had an interest in art.
For about 12 years in the 1950s & 60s, he was a part-time art teacher at the All Saints School in the Sabah state capital, reviewing and offering suggestions for improvement paintings of students there.
These were students preparing for the final term of the Cambridge School Certificate examination. In those days there was no such thing as the Malaysian School Certificate (SPM).
“Many of my former students have come up to me and say, hey, you taught me art in school,” he told me in my last interview with him in February 2011.
These include Datuk Yaman Hj Ahmad Mus, the head of the Sabah Art Society.
George and Kathy Chin
George Chin’s artistic talents came to the public eye in 1975 during the intense election campaign involving the newly formed Berjaya Party of which he was a member.
He made a name for himself then as Mingo, the artist who drew and published many political cartoons in a local daily in support of the Berjaya party of which he was a member.
I asked him how he picked the name Mingo and explained that since his name is Kok Min, his younger siblings used to call him “Min Koh”, meaning elder brother in Chinese.
Although he was better known for his political cartoons, George had accomplished a large number of paintings on a wide range of topics.
One of his pet subjects was natives going about in their daily life.
His children have in the past year selected several of his favourite paintings related to natives on the way to the tamu and produced a limited edition of T-shirts (right) in an effort to highlight their dad’s artistic talents.
I see this as a brilliant way to pay tribute to an artist and have kept a few of the T-shirts for myself in memory of George and his friendship.
However, what has impressed me more than even his artistic talents is the way George has faced upheavals in life with great courage and his resilience.
Many are unaware, for instance, that he had spent several years (1969-1972) as a political detainee at the prison camp in Kepayan, often referred to in jest at that time of Sabah’s history as ‘Universiti Kepayan’.
He told me that it was a traumatic experience and one of the most difficult times of his life.
One of his daughters, Vera, told me yesterday that during those years of detention, George did a lot of oil paintings and was actively engaged in carpentry work.
“He did many furniture items and even did wood carvings during those years in prison. Do you know that he also loved writing? He has in fact written a book that has yet to be published,” she disclosed.
The marvel is that he had returned from that long and painful detention and successfully rebuilt his life, facing the world with courage and dignity.
It was truly an occasion of great joy shared by their family members and a large gathering of friends.
Fr Wilfred Atin, a Catholic priest who was among those who spoke on that occasion, praised the couple for being a living example of enduring love and marriage to their children and to the young generation.
Another personal trait of George was his quaint sense of humour that often evoked joy and laughter, sometimes even during ceremonies when seriousness and solemnity were the order of the day.
His wife Katherine comes from the well-known Manjaji family of Penampang. One of her brothers, the late Joe Manjaji, was a former Member of Parliament and known in the Sabah sports arena as a boxer.
Age did not seem to stop him being romantic and sentimental. Even as an octogenarian, George (left) would sportingly step on stage, belt out a sentimental number and dedicate it to his beloved wife Kathy.
The last time he did so was on May 5, 2012, at his 88th birthday bash.
The Chin family has grown in the past six decades of marriage, having four daughters and two sons and by the last count they have 15 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Their children included: Leslie, publisher of the Sabah Property magazine; daughters Vera, Rosemary and Rebecca married to Norman Wong who is in the forest plantation, timber and property development business.
Their youngest child, Victor who now lives in Toronto, Canada, is now rushing back to Kota Kinabalu to attend the funeral service on Friday.
“We are a closely knit family,” George had told me before in an interview at their Luyang suburban home.
Emily, the eldest child who lives in Sydney, is also flying in to be close to the family during this time of mourning and loss.
The deep love and care of George for the young has gone beyond his family circles.
Being the charter president of the Junior Chamber of Jesselton way back in 1962, he had over the years continued to show interest and support for the local chapter of the Junior Chamber International (JCI), now known as JCI Kota Kinabalu.
When the chapter celebrated the 50th anniversary of its existence about two months ago, on Nov 3, George was unable to attend due to poor health.
Instead, he sent a message in the form of a video clip that was warmly received at the Golden Jubilee function.
Stephen Garces, a JCI Senator married to George’s daughter Rosemary, has described his father-in-law as “a great and humble man” and “the greatest influence in my life”.
Garces, who was with George during the final hours, gave testimony that this man who passed away on the eve of 2013 had faced death as he faced the challenges of life – with great courage and without fear.
Truly, Sabah has lost a great and gifted son who has lived life to the full and shown immense charity to family, friends and society, freely and generously.
May his soul rest in peace!