Badminton great Boon Bee dies

Boon Bee, one of the greatest sportsmen the country has ever produced. - BAM Facebook pix

MALAYSIA lost a badminton legend when Datuk Ng Boon Bee, 84, passed away today.


He abruptly developed severe stomach pain during lunch and was quickly rushed to a private hospital, and then transferred to Ipoh Hospital, according to his wife, Datin Tong Yee Cheng, 84.


“We’re told he died of aneurysm at 4pm. We’re supposed to go to Penang after lunch for a holiday,” said Tong in a telephone interview from her home in Chemor, Perak.


A ruptured aneurysm (the enlargement of an artery caused by weakness in the arterial wall) can lead to fatal complications.


Coincidentally, Boon Bee’s daughter, Pek Yoke, and her husband, John Yuen, were around when Boon Bee suddenly fell ill. They had come from Singapore five days ago to visit Boon Bee and Tong after missing the family for the past two and a half years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


“He was perfectly fit, strong and healthy. He was very jovial and very happy. We talked more about food and life in Singapore,” said Yuen, a businessman.


Boon Bee and Tong had a son, named Thomas, who died of cancer last year.


Boon Bee was a member of the winning 1967 Thomas Cup team when Malaysia dethroned Indonesia in the final. Other players included Datuk Teh Kew San, Datuk Yew Cheng Hoe, Tan Aik Huang and Billy Ng.


He formed one of the most potent doubles partnerships with Datuk Tan Yee Khan in the 1960s and 70s. Although he was short, he could leap very high to deliver powerful smashes.


They won numerous international titles, including the All England (1963, 65, 66), Asian Games (1962, 66, 70), Asian Championships (1962), and SEA Games (61, 65, 67).


Boon Bee later partnered with the late Datuk Punch Gunalan to win the All England in 1971, the Commonwealth Games in 1970, the Asian Games in 1970 and the Asian Championships in 1969.


In 1970, he teamed up with Sylvia Ng to win the mixed doubles in the Asian Games.


Yee Khan, who runs the Seaview Hotel & Holiday Resort on Pangkor Island, said he was sad to hear of Boon Bee’s death.


“I’m very, very, very sad. I feel like I have lost half my body. We were together for so many years, travelling all over the world and winning championships.


“Boon Bee visited me about two months ago and stayed one night at my place. He was a very close friend.


“I am shocked, and I think I will need some sleeping pills to get over this news,” said Yee Khan, who together with Boon Bee studied at St Michael’s Institution. Both of them also worked for Tenaga Nasional as meter readers.


Cheng Hoe said he was sad as they had known each other for a very long time.


“Boon Bee is one of the best sportsmen the country has ever produced. He did not only represent Malaysia in badminton, but also in football and hockey. I take my hat off to him,” Cheng Hoe said.


According to former Bernama chief executive and editor-in-chief Datuk Yong Soo Heong, Boon Bee was also one of the Penang fans’ favourite players to watch when he played at the Penang Chinese Girls High School hall or attended centralised training at the then government chalets quarters near Jesselton Heights for the Thomas Cup.


“As a young boy, he was one of my idols because although he was relatively short, he could jump up high in the air to smash the shuttle fast and furious to bedazzle his opponents.


“He was like a bouncy rubber ball or a graceful frog that could soar high into the air to finish off his opponents.


“To be able to do that countless number of times during a match, Boon Bee had to be very fit and certainly he was fit as a fiddle then,” recalled Yong, once a Penang state junior player.


Penang Badminton Association president Datuk Kah Kau Kiak said Boon Bee was a mighty player despite his diminutive size.


“On behalf of the Penang Badminton Association, our deepest condolences to his family. Boon Bee will always be remembered for his services to the country,” Kah said.


Story by K.H. Ong