David Lazarus’ life was a quest.
As a journalist he wanted to be among the best and later on, as a staff of the United Nations (UN), he worked to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of life.
An ex-journalist with the New Straits Times, he was a much-loved figure at the Balai Berita newsroom and also on the newsroom of the now defunct Asiaweek. He also wrote for newspapers in Montreal and London.
A modest person of integrity, he was justly proud of his contribution to the world body, which he served for 19 years until he retired in July and returned to Malaysia.
He was in the process of setting up home in Jalan Ampang when he suddenly collapsed and died on Oct 12, aged 59.
Born to middle income parents in Kuala Lumpur on April 2, 1949, David Selvanayagam Lazarus was seven when his father Ephraim Raj Lazarus, a health inspector, died of a heart-attack at 42.
His mother, the former Polly Pakiam Paul, a Singapore nurse, brought David up under difficult and challenging times, but instilled in him the right values that were to stand him in good stead in adulthood.
Following his early education at the Bukit Bintang Boys School, David finished Form Five at the Methodist Boys before joining the New Straits Times as a cub reporter.
He never attended university but thirsted for knowledge and having a photographic memory, devoured vast traces of literature, which he would and could quote verbatim.
Six-foot and inexhaustibly energetic, David rose fast to become editor of the supplements desk. He also wrote with knowledge and affection about travelling cheap under the column “Life in a Suitcase”.
Yet, nothing pleased him more on a long day than to sit in the then smoke-filled newsroom discussing possible topics to fill his supplementary pages.
His travels took him on snap journalistic lecture tours to Europe. Well-read and travelled, he also had friends and colleagues in countries far and wide, between Tibet and Turkey, Egypt and South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, United States and Antigua.
Travelling on one such trip to Vienna in 1972, he befriended Patricia Poggi, a French undergraduate majoring in literature at the McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who was introduced by mutual friends.
After an exchange of pleasantries, they developed a growing friendship that brought them together in marriage two years later at the Kuala Lumpur West Methodist Church on Jan 26, 1974.
“I was immediately fascinated by his humanity and kindness. Normally young men his age were quite self-centred and arrogant, but here was a down-to-earth man who was very gentle and kind. This was perhaps more than anything else that drew me to him,” recalled Patricia, the daughter of a French navigating officer in Marseilles, France, who has since settled in Malaysia.
They had three children — two girls Annabelle and Amelia, and a son Adrian. She also helped him out with his French lessons and made him reasonably good in the language.
Joining the UN in the late 1980s, he was the environment programme co-ordinator in Nairobi, Kenya. He went on to become chief of information services in Bangkok in 1993. It was then that he pursued a Masters degree in mass communications. He also had a big hand in securing UN support for the then fledgling organisation, the Asia-Pacific Forum for Environmental Journalists.
His last posting was as director of Information at the United Nations Information Centre in Jakarta.
David brought to his administrative tasks the precision, patience and human understanding that was the stamp for much of his work with the world body.
It was also here that he showed his administrative talents matched his journalistic abilities.
David was particularly happy in his family life. He was jovial and witty with an apparently voracious appetite for books, the theatre, classical music, the opera, good food and drinks, particularly gin-tonic which he enjoyed with a double lime.
Malay Mail. Thursday 30th October 2008