Sunday March 17, 2013
The good doctor
By FIONA HO
Dr Albert Lim Kok Hooi, a consultant oncologist and regular editorial contributor to The Star, passed away from cancer last week at age 60. He leaves behind a legacy of kindness and compassion.
ALBERT Lim Kok Hooi was a man of many words. A consultant oncologist and regular editorial contributor to The Star, the doctor had made good of his penchant for the pen to speak up for the rights of the under-represented, humankind and animals.
A voracious reader and fervent philosopher, Dr Lim was known for his biting wit and charm.
He passed away in his home last week from prostate cancer at age 60.
He is survived by his wife Elizabeth, 60, and their two children, Leonard, 34, and Leona, 31.
A firm believer in freedom of speech, the good doctor consistently raised questions on science and social issues, and revelled in the free exchange of ideas.
Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Dr Lim had received his early education at Victoria Institution, before specialising in radiotherapy and oncology at Kuala Lumpur General Hospital (HKL) and Middlesex Hospital in London.
He went on to obtain his Fellowship of the Royal College of Radiologists in 1983. In 1987, as a senior consultant, he was appointed head of HKL’s Institute of Radiotherapy and Oncology, before joining private practice in 1997.
In fact, Dr Lim was the physician in charge of British theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author Stephen Hawking during his 1994 visit to Malaysia. “Hawking was dad’s hero at that time,” Leonard shares with a smile.
But far from being a stiff academic, his family members describe him as a “witty raconteur” who enjoyed trading banter, and a regular glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc on his front porch.
Also a lover of music and the arts, Dr Lim enjoyed classical music and regularly attended dance performances, his last being Swan Lake at the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.
Elizabeth describes her late husband as a family man who often doubled up as chauffeur to his children on weekends during their youth.
He used to rush back from work just to ferry them to and from their guitar and taekwando lessons.
The doctor was fond of the outdoors and found pleasure in taking his two children to the park for games.
He also loved his pet shih tzu, a cuddly furball he christened Dioji (derived from D-O-G).
Having being part of the family for about seven years, Dioji often enjoyed long walks with his master, even towards the end stages of Dr Lim’s cancer.
Above all, the doctor was a beloved companion to his children.
“He was certainly not the typical father who wanted us to respect him as the head of the household.
“He was more interested in being a friend to my brother and I,” Leona, a marketing executive, relates.
“He always thought of us as his best friends first, and children second,” she adds.
Leona recalls occasions when her late father would pour her a glass of whiskey and invite her for a chat whenever she came home looking glum.
“He actually encouraged me to drink. He calls alcohol a ‘lovely social lubricant’,” she says with a laugh.
Having loved reading from young, Dr Lim was an avid fan of history and literature, a passion he strived to nurture in his children.
He spoke often of issues appearing in the papers and news channels to stimulate thought and discussion in the family, Leona shares.
“He could prattle off the intricacies of the American political system, the poetry of Kipling, and the art installations currently ongoing at the Tate gallery (in London).
“He taught us all about Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution and made it enjoyable,” she says.
A portrait of Darwin, a 19th-century theorist of evolution, hangs atop a piano at the corner of the family’s living room. Darwin had served as a testament to his father’s take on science, Leonard shares.
For Leonard, an investment consultant, it is those Sunday family dinners spent musing over gossip and current affairs with his father that he will miss the most.
“We always spent Sunday together as a family. Dad always looked forward to it.
“He would always be dressed and ready, and he would always arrive the earliest,” he tells this writer.
It was one year ago that the doctor learned of his cancer following a visit to the urologist, and decided to break the news to his family in their living room.
“I was devastated. It was very crushing news,” Leona shares.
“But it didn’t hurt as much in the first 10 months because he was asymptomatic (showing no signs of the disease), so it was easy to forget that he had cancer.
“He had been so upbeat and had such a cheery outlook, that he made it easy for the family to forget.”
Despite his diagnosis, the doctor was determined to live as full a life as possible, while his quality of life was still good.
He also kept his cancer a secret from acquaintances and friends.
“He was a private person in many ways. His cancer was something to be dealt with within the family,” Leonard says.
The writer in him