Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Dr Syed Mahmood bin Syed Hussain Jamalullail

Dr Syed Mahmood bin Syed Hussain Jamalullail (1921-2011)

Syed Mahmood was born on 29 September 1921 in Arau, Perlis. His early years were spent in his hometown, Arau, where he attended the Arau Malay School. Later he went to Penang and studied at the Government English School, Hutching’s School, and the Penang Free School. He successfully completed the OSCE in 1939 and secured a place to study law at the University of Cambridge. However, his application for scholarship was turned down. Syed Mahmood managed to get a medical seat instead of law, at the University of Hong Kong.  His father gave him full support and a hearty send off from the Arau railway station in 1939.

A whole new world awaited Syed Mahmood in Hong Kong. His undergraduate years were academically and socially enriching and enjoyable.  An avid sportsman and a cricketer, he played for Hong Kong University and was a popular figure on the campus. He also joined the Volunteer Force of the University. At that time, the Second World War was building up around the region. When the Japanese took over Hong Kong in 1941, he was made a prisoner of war. Being a Muslim and requiring halal food, he was placed with the Indian prisoners at the Ma Tau Chung Camp. He made friends with many Indian soldiers who had fought for the British. In the meantime, a senior faculty member managed to convince the Japanese authorities that imprisoned medical students could help out in the public health sector, especially in control of infectious diseases programmes. Together with others, he was released on parole, and worked with the medical team. Later, he worked at the Star Ferry Company as an Inspector. He had several close friends among the Hong Kong Chinese community and was quite fluent in Cantonese. When the war was over in 1945, he was given a place at the University of Oxford to complete his medical studies. He had been away from home for more than six years and did not want to sail to England right away. He was given permission to travel via Malaya for a reunion with his parents and family. When he reached Arau in September 1945, he learnt that the father who had been a source of inspiration for him had passed away. Times and fortunes had changed and his mother and family needed his presence and support. He chose to be nearer home, enrolled at the University of Malaya in Singapore and graduated as a doctor with MBBS in 1951. 

He did his housemanship in Johor Bahru Hospital. He then returned to Perlis, to work as a medical officer. In 1956, he married Ruby bte Abdul Majeed. In 1967, the couple moved to Kuala Lumpur and commenced general practice as Clinic Drs Syed Mahmood and Ruby Majeed in the MARA building, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

In 1972, Dr Syed Mahmood was selected by the Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Dr Ismail to lead the first Malaysian medical delegation to China. At that time, there were no diplomatic ties with China. The group studied and prepared a report on medical conditions in China especially the much publicized acupuncture anaesthesia at Chinese hospitals. He served as the President of the College of General Practitioners from 1978 to 1980. He contributed regularly to University of Malaya. He served on the University Council, chaired several of its key committees and served as Chairman, Board of Management, University Hospital (now University of Malaya Medical Centre). He was also actively involved in professional bodies and served as President of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) in 1988.*

Dr Syed Mahmood married Dr Ruby bt Abdul Majeed in 1956. They have three children, two sons and a daughter, and five grandchildren.

Dr Syed Mahmood passed away of old age on 30 November 2011.** He was 90 years old. 

Dr Ruby was still alive then - she was 87 years old. She later passed away.

* Text is reproduced from: Faridah Abdul Rashid. 2012. Research on the Early Malay Doctors 1900-1957 Malaya and Singapore.

** On 13 May 2012, Prof Datin Dr Farida Jamal (UPM) informed me that Dr Syed Mahmood bin Syed Hussain Jamalullail had passed away in November 2011.