Michael Graham Parry, who turns 80 in January 2011, is known to many in Johor as an avid sportsman, Rotarian, Masonic member and friend. But few know that he was nicknamed “Shiro” by the Japanese when he worked as an office boy interpreter with Nippon Seitetsu Kabushiki Kaisha when he was just 11 years old.
With a long and illustrious career as teacher, principal, lecturer, examiner, consultant and golf club manager, many of his students and colleagues in Muar, Kulai and Johor Baru are now his friends while many have become co-workers in community service.
Born in Kuala Lumpur in 1931 to Charles William Parry and Helen Scully, Parry, the eldest of four children, studied in the Anglo-Chinese School when the family moved to Ipoh. His father, who was with the Telecoms later joined the Malaya Volunteer Force and went to Singapore with the army as a sergeant.
While Parry was in the Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur, he won many sports accolades and trophies in rugby and athletics. Besides excelling in sports and studies, he was an active Boy Scout who was honoured among the nation’s first seven King’s Scouts, the highest rank in the Malaysian Scouting Association. It was an unforgettable day in 1948 when he went to Penang to receive his certificate from Sir Henry Gurney, the British High Commissioner of Malaya.
He considered joining the army and was offered a job with the Police force but to be admitted, a form must be signed by his headmaster. Parry remembers how his headmaster refused to sign the form but encouraged him to go to university instead. When Parry sat for the entrance exam, he was accepted into University of Malaya in Singapore and awarded a full bursary!
In university Parry studied Economics and English and pursued his passion for sports. After he won the Gold medal for athletics in the 1953 Malayan Championship, he was selected to represent Malaya in the All-Ceylon championship. In 1954 he led the varsity team to the Second Asian Games in Manila as team manager and to the Inter-Varsity Games in HongKong.
After graduation in 1956, Parry’s first teaching posting was originally to Alor Setar but because of his background in rugby, he was instead posted to English College or Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar in Johor Baru where he also taught English and Economics. Some of his notable students are former Health Minister, Chua Jui Meng and former Minister of Information, Tan Sri Muhammad Rahmat. That same year, Parry married Yolanda Mcleod and they have two children, Christopher and Liza. He and his wife later divorced.
Ever the keen sportsman, Parry was then manager of the Johor Athletic team and captain of the Hockey League. He would play tennis at the Johor Civil Service Club, (now Johor Cultural and Sports Club), and enjoy golf at the Royal Johor Country Club, (now Johor Golf and Country Club or JGCC). Parry continues to be a regular at JGCC today but mostly to meet friends and relax over his favourite iced-Milo drink!
Before 1965 there were no secondary schools in Kulaijaya until Parry was appointed headmaster of Sekolah Sultan Ibrahim (SSI), its first secondary school. He brought together schools from neighbouring areas and merged them into one comprehensive school system that taught vocational subjects like agricultural science, industrial arts, home science and commerce.
“I went to KL and hijacked a lorry load of furniture for the school,” said Parry with a chuckle, recalling how the school started without any desks and chairs. He was resolute about getting the furniture because students had to bring pieces of paper or plastic to sit on the floor. Such was the humble beginning of the school that Parry and his team built from scratch and developed into a premier school that parents vied to admit their children.
In 1973, Parry became the second Malayan headmaster of Muar High School, then the largest English secondary school in Johor, by enrolment. Parry, a stickler for good grooming, discouraged boys from keeping long hair because it was usually associated with bad hats and drug addicts. He would challenge long-haired students by asking: “Does keeping long hair make you cleverer, more handsome or richer?” The answer inevitably is, “No” so the boys ended up with no alternative but to cut off their long hair!
Around this time Parry met Dawn Tan, headmistress of the Sultan Ibrahim Girls School (SIGS) and shared a great deal in common as both of them were educators. They were married in 1977 and while they each had busy and rewarding careers, they kept their relationship strong and loving.
Parry joined the Rotary Club in Muar and became President in 1978. On his transfer to the Johor Baru Teacher Training College in 1979, he joined the Rotary Club of Johor Baru and held positions of chairman in various avenues of service until he became District Governor 2002 – 2003 for District 3310. In 1992, Parry joined the Masonic Lodge and became the Master in 2001.
“To be a good leader, one should have integrity, honesty and a good value system,” said Parry in his current role as Chairman of the Council of Governors, District 3310, about good role models of leadership for Rotary. He saw a basic pattern of leadership that starts in a family where usually, the eldest is called upon to undertake certain responsibilities and in school, uniform groups and sports, leaders are selected based on ability and sense of responsibility. Parry said that leaders also need to be decisive, firm and fair, be problem-solvers, able to think logically and provide guidance and motivation.
For his service to the country in education, Parry was awarded the Pingat Kemahkotaan (PK), Pingat Ibrahim Sultan (PIS) and in 1985, he received the Ahili Mangku Negara (AMN) from the Yang DiPertuan Agong. In the Johor district level Teachers Day celebration in May 1987, Parry received the Gold medal for teachers. In 1990, he was the recipient of the prestigious Tokoh Guru award.
After his retirement in 1986, Parry was busy with Rotary community projects and was advisor to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. He joined Octville Golf Club as club manager and went on to be managing director of Oct Towers Resort. Parry traveled widely with friends for sports and to Rotary events with his wife. With the arrival of grandson, Jordan Livingstone in 1989, Parry reached another milestone in his life when he became grandfather.
Parry’s eventful life is filled with meaningful moments and significant people. From varsity years when he represented the nation in sports and building a premier school from scratch, to his term as Rotary District Governor and being married to Dawn. Parry enjoys sharing an anecdote or two so when you next meet him, remember to ask about how he taught English to radio DJ’s at the request of the Johor Sultan!