Taib – Grand old man of Sarawak

Taib with the present King of Malaysia, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad.

KUCHING, 21 May 2020 : Today is a special day for Sarawak being the birthday of Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, Sarawak’s longest serving politician and now Governor.

The grand old man of Sarawak is 84 years old this year. He was born on May 21, 1936.

Taib with his mother Wan Hamidah

The first woman in Taib’s life was his mother Wan Hamidah Yakub who was of Melanau and Kelantan Arab-Malay descent.

It was destiny that she was united with Taib’s father Pengiran Wan Mahmud, the grandson of Orang Kaya Setia Raja Pengiran Manai of Mukah who was the first Melanau assemblyman during the Brooke era.

The eldest of 10 children, Taib was sent to a Malay school before being enrolled in St Joseph’s School in Miri before he was hand-picked and sent for further studies at St Joseph’s School in Kuching.

In Kuching Taib excelled in his 1957 Higher School Certificate (HSC) examination earning him a Colombo Plan scholarship to study at the University of Adelaide in South Australia.

On January 13, 1959 he married a Polish Muslim woman, Laila Chalecki, and the following year after graduating with a Bachelor of Law degree he was appointed as an associate to Justice Sir Herbert Mayo of the Supreme Court of South Australia

His father passed away soon after Taib’s marriage and his mother had to raise his nine siblings — Ibrahim, Zainab, Zaleha, Onn, Ali, Tufail, Farida, Raziah and Arip — on her own.

On his return to Kuching, Abdul Taib, who was only 25, joined the legal profession and became the breadwinner and ‘father’ to not only his two oldest children, Jamilah and Mahmud, but his siblings as well.

In December 1961, Taib decided to join the Rajang-based Barisan Rakyat Jati Sarawak (Berjasa) led by Tun Tuanku Bujang and became his deputy.

Wearing two hats — one as a politician and the other as a family man — Taib gave himself five years before quitting to go into business.

But it was not to be because at the age of 27 he was chosen to represent the Malay-Melanau faction of the Sarawak Alliance coalition.

On July 22, 1963, Taib was appointed one of Sarawak’s first six cabinet ministers led by Chief Minister Tan Sri Stephen Kalong Ningkan.

Taib said that he had to find a formula to ensure that he would not shirk his duties as a politician and maintain his filial responsibilities.

His top priority was to ensure that his mother’s sacrifice would always be treasured as well as everyone in the family.

He demanded loyalty to their mother and that all family members must help with household chores from sweeping the floor to cleaning and washing plates.

Taib was so concerned about his siblings’ education that he went to the extent of going to their schools to check their report cards.

A disciplinarian, he did not spare the rod with his brothers and sisters and his own four children, Jamilah, Mahmud, Sulaiman and Hanifah.

On her part, Laila, who gave up her dream of becoming a doctor, stayed with Taib on his political journey as a Sarawak assemblyman.

Taib and his mentor Tunku Abdul Rahman

In 1968, Taib became a federal cabinet minister on the invitation of Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, and she was with him there for 13 years.

After Taib’s appointment as chief minister of Sarawak on March 27, 1981 the ‘First Lady’ of Sarawak continued with her personal crusade to instil family values into society and helping the handicapped and underprivileged.

Among other things, Laila whose parents were World War II survivors in Europe before migrating to Australia established ‘Have a Heart’ project to care for children with heart ailments.

In 2006 Taib’s mother passed away at the age of 90 and three years later Laila died on April 29, 2009 after a bout of cancer. 

A year later, on December 18, 2010 at the age of 74, Taib took a Syrian, Ragad Waleed Alkurdi, as his second wife.

For the last 10 years Ragad has emulated Laila in social activities through various organisations and associations.

Since taking over as Governor of Sarawak on February 28, 2014 Taib has assumed the role of an elder statesman who has dedicated his life to the people for almost 60 years. Today Taib can be proud of his achievements.

In 2001 he was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia ‘for service to Australian-Malaysian bilateral relations’.

In April 2010 he was awarded a ‘Doctorate in Leadership’ from Limkokwing University of Creative Technology as ‘architect’ of development.

In July, Taib was presented ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ by Asia HRD Congress to commemorate his contributions towards the establishment of University Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).

Taib also holds honorary degrees from the University Of Adelaide, Australia; Putra University; Honorary Doctor of Technology Degree from Curtin University of Technology; and Honorary Fellow of Islamic Academy of Sciences from the Islamic Academy of Sciences, Amman, Jordan.

Through his famous ‘politics of development’, Taib has changed the mindset of Sarawakians, and now as the Governor he has become the grand old man of modern Sarawak.


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