Chau Sen Cocsal "Chhum", the last of Cambodia's great civil servants under the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, passed away at 6:45 am Thursday in Phnom Penh at the venerable age of 104.
My grandfather's career started in 1926 under the French Protectorate with a posting as a second-class administrator at what is now the Hotel Renakse.
Although he steadily rose through the ranks, it was not until after World War II that he successively became mayor of Phnom Penh, then governor of Kampong Cham and Kandal.
These were the first significant postings of a career that included nominations as president of the National Assembly, prime minister, president of the Supreme National Council, dean of the Constitutional Council and privy adviser to His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk.
End of a generation
He belonged to a generation where merits were based on proven and demonstrated skills, a generation of doers who were well trained in field management and policymaking, a generation of servants of the Kingdom who believed in honour, integrity, duty and values that some in modern-day Cambodia may find old-fashioned.
His generation fought hard for independence, then renaissance under the Sangkum. They were courageous men and women, and they dared to go beyond the confines of conservatism, prejudice and fear.
Grandpa was the first Cambodian bachelier and spoke perfect, if quaintly archaic French. He had a curious mind, a sharp sense of humour and was an avid reader. His medals, titles and colourful anecdotes were plentiful. He had travelled the world, joked with President John F Kennedy and General Charles de Gaulle as well as many others whose ideals and human qualities he admired. But above all, he cared for people.
A few years ago he told me that I would have to convey his apologies to the people of Phnom Penh, for the traffic congestion that his funeral cortege would undoubtedly cause. Such was Chau Sen Cocsal "Chhum", a man considerate of the rights of others, small or tall. He always had kind words for the anonymous faces tirelessly serving the high and mighty. For Samdech Chhum thought of himself as a mere servant. To have served dutifully and unfailingly was his greatest pride.
Over the past week, many old folks came to pay him their last respects, itinerant monks who had heard of his passing, compatriots from Kampuchea Krom, those old hands and rheumy eyes who still remember an age forgotten by this generation of Cambodians. Grandpa passed away lightheartedly and peacefully, surrounded by Grandma and the rest of the family.
Dr Thanakvaro T De Lopez
Cambodian Research Centre for Development (CRCD)
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