GEORGE TOWN: Gerakan’s one-time Wanita chief, Datuk Kee Phaik Cheen, has died of Covid-19 complications.
The former state executive councillor for tourism, culture, the arts and women’s development had been hospitalised for over a month after testing positive for the virus.
Kee, 74, is married to Dr Choong Sim Poey and the couple have two children, Chiren and Chiying.
In her more than two decades of government service where she was Batu Uban assemblyman and also executive councillor, Kee was credited for raising Penang’s profile in heritage, culture, arts and food.
She also served as a deputy chairman of Tourism Malaysia.
She always stood out locally and on her international travels in her traditional Malaysian costumes and flowing kaftans, which she sported with a grey streak in her bouffant hair.
Kee, a former teacher, was instrumental in launching the state’s arts festivals, women’s celebrations and her pet projects included the Penang International Salon Gastronomique which featured a Battle of the Chefs and the annual Food and Fruit Fiesta that highlighted a 1.8km-long hawker stall along the then sea-fronting Gurney Drive.
“Phaik Cheen passed away peacefully today at 2.40pm,” Dr Choong said in a WhatsApp group message comprising her family, friends and church members.
“I was holding her hands for the last hour before the end. None of the drugs or machines could help her. I talked to her and told of the hundreds of friends who wished her well; my last hug represents all of you who called in, “he said.
When contacted by the New Straits Times, Dr Choong said that Kee’s funeral would be limited to only family and very close friends, owing to lockdown restrictions.
“We hope to have an online memorial service later which everyone can participate in,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kee’s former schoolmate who later became her boss, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, said: “Penang’s success in cultural tourism as promoted by Phaik Cheen had also convinced the federal government in adopting the tagline, ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’, in 2000 for tourism promotion globally, which effectively propelled Malaysia to be one of the world’s top tourist destinations.”
The former Penang chief minister said his friendship with Kee dated back to1965, when they were together in the sixth form at the Penang Methodist Boys School.
In a statement, Koh also commended Kee, who was Penang’s first woman state executive council member for her role in placing George Town on the world heritage map.
“Through her unwavering support for the Penang Heritage Trust’s advocacy on heritage conservation, she had contributed very significantly to the state’s efforts to get George Town successfully inscribed as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage site, jointly with Melaka, by 2008.”