A tribute to Tahir Majid

I have to record this tribute to a dear uncle. His name is Mohamad Tahir Abdul Majid. Two days ago, was his birthday. I was too busy because both of my parents were hospitalized, so it totally slipped my mind.


Tahir Majid was born on 7 April 1930 in Seri Menanti, Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan. He was a grandson of the Kadhi Besar to the Yam Tuan Besar Negeri Sembilan and the eldest son of an anti establishment printer (my grandfather was arrested by the British and Japanese, several times for printing nationalism materials – no blogs then!)

He received early education at Seri Menanti Malay School before he enrolled into Tuanku Muhammad School in Kuala Pilah. After World War II, he continued his education at King George V, Seremban.

He obtained first grade in his school certificate exams and wanted to do medicine. However, he can’t afford it and he was fortunate enough to be given a place to study at Technical College (TC) in Kuala Lumpur.

His grades were so good whilst in TC, they gave him a scholarship to study quantity surveying at what is Reading University in 1950. Upon graduation, he pursued to sit for the Royal Institute Chartered Surveyor (RICS) exams and worked in London. He also sat for the Chartered Institute of Builders (CIOB) exams at the same time.

He came back to Malaya in 1960 and was the first Malay chartered surveyor, along with Dato’ Abdul Rahim Abdul Rahman, (now Executive Chairman, Rahim & Co). He joined Public Works Department while Rahim was in the Valuation Department.

1965 he left to start the firm of what it is today, Nik Farid & Loh. He was one of the very few chartered surveyors in town. Things were going good for him.

In 1966, the Government decided to form MARA Institute of Technology (ITM), under the recently passed MARA Act. Tun Razak, then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in the Rural Development had personally asked Tahir to set up the Architecture School (in ITM). He gave Tahir two weeks to consider. He had known Tahir since their days in England.

Two weeks later Tahir went to see the DPM. He sold of his firm and gave up a RM five thousand a month pay to start and develop the Architecture School of ITM. Tun Razak was very surprised. He thought Tahir would just design the programs, draft the syllabus and nominate a candidate.

He was very dedicated in this new project. There were not enough professionals to teach this new school. So he went around looking for the right personalities, even abroad. He managed to get big names like Hijjaz Kasturi from Singapore (now a renowned architect) and Ezrin Arbi from Bandung (retired professor of QS in UTM) to develop the programs and gave credibility to the courses offered.

Bureaucracy is always the culprit to development. When his first students received their scrolls in 1969, JPA did not recognize ITM Diplomas. So the diploma holders in QS, architecture and engineering find it very tough to get a job. ITM graduates can’t be admitted to neither UM nor UTM. However, Tahir Majid worked out a special scheme with MARA to ship these people abroad. British Universities suddenly were accepting these graduates, direct into second year.

That created a chain reaction. Soon Australian universities did the same. Of course, American colleges. The admission into some of the good architecture and engineering schools in England because the graduates were simply, “Harry’s boys”. The Malaysian Government suddenly realized that almost all Dean or Admission Tutors at British Polytechnics offering these course were Tahir Majid’s contemporaries.

Being his students means that most admission tutors validated the standards of syllabus and teaching in ITM. Therefore, admissions into second year programs in polytechnics such as Central London, City, South Bank, Oxford, Brighton, Southampton, Portsmouth and University of Reading, Herriot Watt, Stirling, Norwich and University Collge of London were assured and seamless.

He even ensured that other courses in ITM maintained and enjoyed such benefits from his professional and casual relationship amongst the professional bodies in Britain. For example, since the late 60s, accounting courses in ITM enjoyed the auspices of the President of ACCA to be one of its external examiners. I personally saw this, in 1983 whilst on a trip to London, how the President and past Presidents of RICS had very high regard for him. They all know him as, “Harry Majid”.

He diligently served ITM for 15 years, as the Dean of Academic Affairs (now known as Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic) and Deputy Director since Tan Sri Arshad Ayub’s time up to Prof Dato’ Nik Rashid tenure. He had a lot of hand in developing ITM in Sabah, Arau and Dungun. Tahir was the person instrumental to dissolve the ITM students’ demonstration and hostage taking in 1974, because he gained the students’ trust and respect.

He retired in 1982 and started his private practice. Later, he became a professor in UTM and also a consultant for YTL Corporation.  He managed to earn six professional qualifications in quantity surveying and building sciences. He also remained a visiting tutor and an external examiner to TAR College for a very long time.

In recognition to his vast contribution in ITM and profession, En Ghaffar Baba, then Deputy Prime Minister in 1993, dedicated the ITM School of Architecture, Planning and Survey (KSPU) as the Kompleks Tahir Majid. It is the second building in ITM being dedicated to a person. The first is the library, which is called Perpustakaan Tun Abdul Razak.

Tahir Majid died on 18 July 1993, after painfully battling liver and throat cancer for over a year.

Until today, no other person in Malaysia managed to obtain Fellowship to professional bodies such as RICS (UK), CIOB (UK), MIS (Mal), FICA (UK), AIQS (Aust) and AAACE (US), at the same time.

Published in: on April 9, 2007 at 22:06  Comments (10)