07 June 2005

Wednesday April 6, 2005
The late Puan Sri Naimah, a pillar of strength

Sometimes people come into your life and you can’t foresee what impact they are going to make. Last week many of my colleagues and I mourned the death of Puan Sri Naimah Hasbi after a long illness. In the newspapers, she was recognised only as the wife of the former Minister Tan Sri Sulaiman Daud. In fact she was much, much more.

Puan Sri Naimah Hasbi in her younger days. Her compassion and helpfulness are an inspiration to many.
I can’t remember when I first met Puan Sri Naimah but in 1993 she welcomed me to a dinner that ended with my being made the Chair of the Malaysian AIDS Foundation. Puan Sri was a founding Trustee and remained so until her death on March 26.

Many people of her standing sit on Boards and do little but Puan Sri was not one of those. She not only came to every single meeting of the Board and took an interest in everything that was discussed but also attended every event and function we organised during those years, if she was in town and available. If we asked her to attend something on our behalf, she always graciously obliged. She chaired for a time our Paediatric AIDS Fund committee that provided financial support to children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

It was not just Puan Sri Naimah’s commitment that inspired us all. Her attitude towards everything was an example to everyone. She was always cheerful and interested. Never one to have airs, she would come to our events, armed with her ever-present camera and mix around with everyone, including people living with HIV/AIDS, as naturally as if they were her own friends and neighbours. Perhaps she had more empathy than most with those who had problems. Unlike many, she was willing to learn, often coming to seminars to listen and to ask questions. Always she was clearly sincerely sympathetic to people with HIV/AIDS and was never one to make judgments on people.

Helping others came naturally to Puan Sri. If she felt that it would benefit someone to meet and discuss an issue with another party, she would organise it and even host it at home. If she heard that someone had arthritis and felt they would benefit from a massage, she would personally take the person to the masseuse. How she fit in all this helpfulness while managing a home and family as well as her commitments to several other organisations is a wonder to us all. But you could always count on her.

We will all remember Puan Sri Naimah for her openness and her courage in the face of her own illness. She never hid the fact that she had cancer. Often she would come to meetings and cheerily announce that she had just come from her chemotherapy treatment. Never once did she display any self-pity. Indeed she remained her perfectly dressed self, determined to not let her illness dictate her life, until almost the end.

A year ago, Tan Sri Sulaiman quietly requested us not to invite his wife to any more meetings because he did not feel she was up to it. She herself did not think so and occasionally an invitation would slip through and she would drive herself to our office, perfectly turned out as always. But it was clear then that her husband was right to worry. Puan Sri was lucky in having a caring husband and family who never left her side throughout her illness. They too are an inspiration to us all for their unending love and dedication.

Many of us working in HIV/AIDS in Malaysia will miss Puan Sri Naimah. She was like a mother to us all, gently pushing us along the difficult roads. She showed us that with care, compassion and courage, we can tackle anything.

May God bless her soul and may she rest in peace. Al-fatihah.