Saturday, May 12, 2012

To Miss Cooke With Love -

What a fitting tribute to Miss Cooke during the 
celebrations of Mother's Day and Teacher's Day

To Ms Cooke with love


Former students share how their principal made an impact on their lives.
IT IS clear that Ms Elena Cooke left an indelible mark on all whom she came into contact with.
Dedicated principal: Cooke was firm, yet compassionate and caring to her students.
Cooke, 89, was the first Malaysian principal of Bukit Bintang Girls School (BBGS) and served from 1958 to 1977. She was also a student, teacher and later BBGS board of governors’ chairman. She passed away on May 2.
Former students otherwise known as BBGSians, recall the emphasis she placed on behaviour, decorum and academic excellence. School rules teaching the importance of truth, honesty, integrity, courtesy and consideration for others were put in place.
She was strict but firm and caring, and it was obvious through her actions that she loved her students, staff and the school.
To her former students, BBGS was Ms Cooke and Ms Cooke was BBGS.
In turn, many BBGSians who left school long ago stayed in contact with Cooke and took the lessons she taught with them.
Moey Yoke Lai, a BBGSian who went on to become a teacher and subsequently senior assistant and principal at several schools, said it was Cooke’s love of people which inspired her.
“Ms Cooke loved people. No detail was too small for her to take an interest in. She would ask questions until she knew the whole story. She would always try to help and come up with practical suggestions,” she said.
She also recalled how Cooke invited her to stay at her home during her Form Five examination as she needed a quiet place to study.
“She came into my room that night with a bottle of chicken essence which she had kept in the freezer, saying that it tasted nice and would give me the energy to study and do well the next day!
“Saying that we love people and living it out are two different things altogether. She lived out what she taught us in school through the Bible Knowledge lessons,” she said, adding that Cooke taught her Geography and Bible Knowledge.
The Geography lessons came alive and to this day whenever Moey travels overseas, she looks out for the places that she had learnt about in school.
Joanna Yeoh whose mother, grandaunt and sister also attended the school, recalled how she kept everyone on their toes when it came to Bible Knowledge.
“We had to really know our facts as she could ask us to recite certain parts of the Gospel or test us on other questions,” she said, adding that she came back from Singapore to attend the wake.
Moey shared how she discovered her love for teaching when she had on two occasions taken up temporary teaching at BBGS.
“I tried to ‘plant’ a bit of BBGS from what we had learnt from Ms Cooke in the schools that I was subsequently posted to,” shared the Methodist College Kuala Lumpur chief executive officer.
BBGS which was located at Jalan Bukit Bintang, became one of the country’s first smart schools. The buildings were later demolished and the school, which was no longer known by its original name, was relocated to the Smart School Complex in Taman Shamelin Perkasa in Cheras. The complex now houses SK Seri Bintang Utara, SK Seri Bintang Selatan, SMK Seri Bintang Utara and SMK Seri Bintang Selatan.
One of the finest
Former Education deputy director-general Datuk Noor Rezan Bapoo Hashim said Cooke left a legacy and was synonymous with what the school stood for.
“She was a dedicated teacher and principal who had the best interests of her students at heart,” shared Noor Rezan who also served as principal of BBGS and SMK Seri Bintang Utara, via a text message from Abu Dhabi.
Tan Sri Dr Wan Mohd Zahid Mohd Noordin, who visited BBGS several times during Cooke’s tenure, said she was in a class of her own.
United we stand: Cooke (second from left), Moey (left) and Phang (right) at a BBGS reunion in 2009. — File photo
“She will be remembered as one of the finest principals if not, the finest that BBGS ever had. She was indeed the epitome of a great humanitarian,” said the former Education director-general.
Under Cooke, the school’s enrolment grew from 500 in the 1950’s to 2,038 by 1977.
She also introduced many activities such as the Geographical Society, Christian Union and choral speaking.
In tribute to their beloved principal, Sandra Sodhy, Norina Yahya, Meera Samanther, Tunku Munawirah Putra and Kiang Faang Pyng got together last Tuesday to become judges for the Sentul Zone Inter-School Choral Speaking Contest held at SMK St Mary in Kuala Lumpur.
“Ms Cooke who introduced choral speaking to BBGS would have been proud to see it spread to so many schools. It was a tradition that every class in BBGS participate in the activity,” said Kiang who is a corporate trainer.
Concurring with Kiang, Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) honorary secretary Tunku Munawirah Putra said classes were more likely to win based on the material’s originality. Sandra Sodhy shared that Cooke inspired the girls to do their best.
“I remember her asking us ‘child did you try?’ as she felt we owed it to ourselves to achieve success,” said the thespian.
Women’s Aid Organisation committee member Meera Samanther recalled how Cooke would send her to school as they lived nearby.
“I tried not to slouch in the car. It was scary at first to go to school with Ms Cooke and her sister but it was also uplifting as she would sing hymns or psalms on the way.
“Teaching wasn’t just a job to her. It was important to her to teach and share the love of God,” she said.
Television and radio personality Norina Yahya recalled how each class competed to have the shield for either the best floral arrangement or cleanest toilet.
“My mother did ikebana at home, so I tried to incorporate it into our class floral arrangement in the hope that we could win,” she said.
PAGE chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim recalled how each class was in charge of a toilet.
“It was our duty to ensure it was clean and we were so proud if we won the cleanest toilet award,” she shared.
Sodhy agreed, saying that their class toilet was so clean that anyone could lay down on it! Cooke drilled the importance of cleanliness and orderliness to her students.
They always knew when she was coming as they could hear the sound of her well-polished black court shoes.
“Everyone would sit up straight and check to see if their desks were straight and their hair was tidy when we heard the clickety-clack of Miss Cooke’s shoes,” shared BBGS Old Girls Association former president Phang Sow Yoong.
Sunway Education Group executive director Elizabeth Lee said Cooke was the epitome of a true educator who devoted her life to touching lives through education, regardless of race, religion and social standing.
“She taught me that the important thing in life was not in being right but to be true to myself, and that it is far greater to have compassion than justice,” she added.
Many BBGSians paid their last respects either at the wake or funeral last weekend.
Moey shared that those who attended the funeral came in their school t-shirts, and they later lined the church outside, singing the school song,BBGS, we pledge to thee, as the funeral cortege left the Jalan Imbi Chapel for the Cheras Christian Cemetery.

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