PETALING JAYA: While holiday goers and locals marvel at the beauty of the waterfront as they cruise down Jalan Fuad Stephens in Sabah, little do they know that the man behind the name of this road lived a life just as colourful as the scenic view.
Fuad Stephens, formerly known as Donald Aloysius Stephens prior to his conversion to Islam, was one of Sabah’s most prominent figures.
He was a multifaceted character who was an army man, journalist, chief minister, high commissioner, governor and political leader.
Fuad was born in Kudat on Sept 14 in 1920 to Kadazan-British Jules Stephens and Japanese-British Edith Stephens. He had five siblings.
Since his family moved from place to place across Sabah wherever work took them, he attended school in his birthplace, as well as in Sandakan, Keningau and Jesselton.
Yet, his fragmented education was not a hindrance to his academic excellence and he was awarded a scholarship to pursue his higher education in Singapore.
He also had a knack for languages and spoke fluent Malay, English, Bajau, Hakka and Japanese.
Despite being a scholarship-holder, he had to abandon his studies midway when his scholarship funds dried up, forcing him to seek employment first as an army clerk, then as a busboy in a Japanese restaurant.
Later he joined the Singapore Civil Defence Corps but when the Japanese invaded Singapore during World War II in 1942, Fuad returned to Sabah.
During the Japanese occupation of Malaya, Fuad’s father was arrested for his involvement in an armed civilian uprising against the Japanese in Jesselton, termed as the Double-Tenth uprising.
His father was executed by a Japanese firing squad at Petagas on Jan 20, 1944. Fuad was the last family member to see him alive.
Fuad too was imprisoned for insulting the Japanese and his mother pleaded long and hard with the Japanese Kempetei for her son’s release. Remarkably he was released in 1944, soon after his father’s execution.
A kind Japanese civilian named Takehana, then hired him to start a salt factory at Likas.
Later, Fuad ventured into journalism, becoming the first local to publish and edit the daily newspaper North Borneo News.
In 1953, Fuad founded the newspaper Sabah Times, and being part Kadazan himself, wrote extensively about the rights and culture of Sabah’s indigenous ethnic group. He wrote under various pseudonyms including Vox Populii, Walrus and Roderick.
Seeing a future for himself in politics, Fuad founded the United National Kadazan Organisation (Unko) in 1961.
It was Fuad who mooted the name change of North Borneo to Sabah in 1963 when he negotiated the state’s inclusion in the formation of Malaysia and was appointed their first chief minister.
However, Fuad’s term was short-lived as he was forced out a year later over political differences with then Sabah governor, Mustapha Harun.
Despite this political setback, Fuad went on to become the first cabinet member in charge of Sabah in the prime minister’s department.
In 1968, Fuad and his family moved to Canberra when he accepted the post of Malaysian High Commissioner for Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. And in 1971, the family flew to Sabah where they converted to Islam and performed the Hajj before returning to Australia.
Two years later, Fuad brought his family back to Sabah, this time to serve as the state’s governor. However, he stepped down from this post to form Parti Bersatu Rakyat Jelata Sabah (Berjaya) with Harris Salleh.
Berjaya won the state election in 1976, and Fuad was made Sabah chief minister for the second time in his political career. He served as the state’s fifth chief minister.
However, just 44 days into his term, Fuad tragically died in a plane crash. The shocking episode that was mired in controversy, became known as ‘Double Six’. He was 55.
Fuad played a significant role in the foundation of Malaysia, with many referring to him as “the father of Malaysia from Sabah”.